The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and announced last year she was retiring from music. Known for hits like Respect and Think, she had more than 20 US number ones over a career spanning seven decades. She gave her final performance last November at a gala in New York held in aid of the Elton John Aids Foundation.
Born in Memphis to a gospel singer/pianist and a celebrated Baptist preacher, Franklin was tutored from an early age by such gospel stars as Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward.She struggled to find fame in the early years, with record label Columbia unsure how to frame her impressively powerful voice.
Elton John led the tributes on his Instagram account, writing: “The loss of Aretha Franklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music.”Music from the heart, the soul and the church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated… I adored her and worshipped her talent. God bless her. My condolences to all her family and friends.”
A move to Atlantic Records in 1966 saw Franklin paired with the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, prompting some of her most soulful and fieriest performances. By 1968 she was renowned throughout America and Europe as “Lady Soul” – a symbol of black pride who appeared on the cover of Time and was given an award by Martin Luther King.After an eye-catching cameo in cult comedy The Blues Brothers, she scored a number of big hits in the 1980s including Who’s Zooming Who? and the George Michael duet I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W Bush in 2005, when she was saluted for “capturing the hearts of millions of Americans”.Ten years later she reduced President Barack Obama to tears when she sang (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at a Kennedy Center Honours ceremony, having previously performed at his inauguration.