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Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin dies at 76

By
Danielle Haynes
Obama sworn in as 44th President in Washington
Aretha Franklin performs during Barack Obama's presidential inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2009. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Aretha Franklin, the legendary Queen of Soul whose songs "Respect" and "Chain of Fools" topped the charts in the 1960s, died Thursday in Detroit, her publicist announced. She was 76.

Franklin died of an undisclosed illness for which she was hospitalized Monday. CBS News and NPR confirmed her death, citing publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.

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Her death came after several health-related concert cancellations in recent years, including two March shows in New Jersey. Franklin's last live performance was Nov. 2 at the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York City.

Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tenn., to pastor and civil rights activist C.L. Franklin. The family moved to Detroit two years later, where she began singing gospel as a child at New Bethel Baptist Church.

Franklin began her professional career at age 14, recording with J.V.B. Records and Columbia Records. It wasn't until she signed with Atlantic Records in 1967, though, that she gained fame with "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," perhaps her most famous songs.

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She produced more than 40 studio albums and about half a dozen live albums over the course of her more-than six decade career.

Franklin won 20 Grammy Awards, including the Legend Award in 1991, the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 and the MusiCares Person of the Year in 2008. She was also honored with three American Music Awards, a Golden Globe, two MTV Video Music Awards and three NAACP Image Awards.

She has 73 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 list, including two No. 1 hits and 17 Top 10 hits.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., praised Franklin for her involvement in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, citing a performance she gave at the 1967 Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

"She was singing and she got happy and kept singing. And Dr. [Martin Luther King Jr.] asked someone to go over and tell Aretha, 'We got to close it out, it's getting late.' But she was feeling so good about being there to perform for Dr. King and the movement. That was the last performance that Dr. King witnessed of hers," Lewis told CNN.

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Franklin grew up amid the civil-rights era, with her father serving as a surrogate for King and organizing the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom, the largest civil-rights demonstration at the time.

Her song "Respect" became a sort of anthem for the movement, Variety reported, but also was a symbol for feminists.

"As women, we do have it," Franklin told Elle in 2016. "We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women and children and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society."

Among her fans were former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who invited her to sing at the White House on multiple occasions.

"Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade -- our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace," the former president said on Twitter.

She sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at Obama's 2009 inauguration in Washington, D.C., a performance she said she wasn't happy with.

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"Mother Nature was not very kind to me. I'm going to deal with her when I get home. It, by no means, was my standard. I was not happy with it, but I just feel blessed because it could have been five above zero or five below zero like it is in Detroit," the Queen of Soul told CNN's Larry King. "I was still blessed to be able to pretty much just sing the melody, but I wasn't happy with it, of course."

A biopic starring Jennifer Hudson about Franklin's life is in the early phases, and is based on the singer's memoir Aretha: From These Roots.

She was married twice, from 1961-69 to Ted White and from 1978-84 to Glynn Turman. She was engaged to be married a third time to Willie Wilkerson but called it off in 2012.

Franklin is survived by four sons: Clarence Franklin, Edward Franklin, Ted White Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham.

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