Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit from advanced pancreatic cancer, her family said in a statement. She was 76 years old.
The family said that the cause of death was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist.
“In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart,” Franklin’s family said in the statement. “We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”
Franklin’s prolific career spanned six decades and included hit songs like “Respect,” “A Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” Even in her 70s, she was still performing. In 2015, her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors brought President Barack Obama to tears.
Franklin, whose father was a Baptist preacher, was born in Memphis but grew up in Detroit, where she began singing in the church choir at an early age. By many accounts, the young prodigy learned to play piano by ear. By the age of 14, with her father’s encouragement, Franklin started making records. Her early music blended gospel and jazz. By 1961, she made the transition into pop; between 1961 and 1969, she recorded 10 albums with Columbia Records.
The singer’s career took off when she recorded her 1967 hit “Respect,” which won two Grammy Awards. The song was off her first platinum album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” She would go on to win 18 Grammy Awards in total and perform at three presidential inaugurations. Franklin was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
But Franklin did not have an easy road to success. Her mother moved away when Franklin was just 6 years old, and died four years later from a heart attack. Franklin’s father raised her as a single parent.
Franklin herself was already a mother before she struck fame. Just before she turned 13, Franklin gave birth to her first child, and she had the second of her four children less than two years later.
The singer also struggled with depression, alcoholism and her weight. A biography said that Franklin was “overwhelmed by fear and obsessed with control” and was afraid her fans would forget her. Franklin was also known for her fear of flying; she frequently took buses instead.
In spite of her fears, Franklin’s legacy remained strong even in recent years. In 2015, she sang for Pope Francis in Philadelphia. But last year, she announced her semi-retirement, saying she was no longer going to perform regularly after the release of her newest album, “A Brand New Me.” She said last February, “This will be my last year. I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert. This is it.” Franklin said she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.
Rumors swirled that Franklin’s health was in decline over the last decade. In 2011, she told Anthony Mason for “CBS Sunday Morning” that there was nothing to worry about. She said, “My health is wonderful. It is fabulous now.” Franklin added of any health issues, “It wasn’t anything well, it wasn’t bad.”
Her last known performance was in November, for Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Fall Gala. Franklin died in Detroit, which is where she spent most of her childhood and adult life. In 2016, she made headlines when she donated hotel stays and food to nearby Flint residents during their water crisis.