A one-of-a-kind singer whose unmistakable voice left an indelible mark on the music industry, Franklin was reported to be "gravely ill" with cancer shortly before her passing. She spent the last few months of her life outside the public eye as she dealt with her declining health. Her last performance was the 25th anniversary gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which was held in November 2017. Before retiring from performing, however, she had asked audience members to keep her in their prayers.
Born March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, Franklin eventually moved to Detroit, where she grew up singing gospel songs. She found success in 1967 when she signed with Atlanta Records and released songs like "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Think." These songs would go on to earn her the title of Queen of Soul.
Since rising to fame in the '60s, Franklin has been cited as the musical inspiration for countless contemporary performers, including Jennifer Hudson and Christina Aguilera. In 1987, she was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Over the course of her career she won 18 Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. She was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors that same year and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She made international headlines in 2008, when she sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" during President Barack Obama's inauguration.
The celebrated soul singer had suffered various health problems over the years. She canceled shows in 2011 and 2013 to have emergency surgery, though she never publicly disclosed the cause of her health issues.
She is survived by four sons: Clarence, Edward, Ted and Kecalf.
Tributes to the Queen of Soul from famous fans rolled in on social media.
"Hillary and I mourn the loss of our friend Aretha Franklin, one of America's greatest national treasures," President Bill Clinton said in a statement obtained by Variety. For more than 50 years, she stirred our souls. She was elegant, graceful, and utterly uncompromising in her artistry. Aretha's first music school was the church and her performances were powered by what she learned there. I'll always be grateful for her kindness and support, including her performances at both my inaugural celebrations, and for the chance to be there for what sadly turned out to be her final performance last November at a benefit supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS. She will forever be the Queen of Soul and so much more to all who knew her personally and through her music. Our hearts go out to her family and her countless fans." — President Bill Clinton
Mourning the loss today of @ArethaFranklin who shared her spirit and talent with the world. She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 16, 2018
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
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. pic.twitter.com/bfASqKlLc5— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 16, 2018
Let's all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years. She will be missed but the memory of her greatness as a musician and a fine human being will live with us forever. Love Paul pic.twitter.com/jW4Gpwfdts— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin was an incredible gift to the world. Her magical music and spirit will stay with us always, as well as with generations to come.— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) August 16, 2018
The greatest voice in American popular music has been stilled. Our beloved #ArethaFranklin has gone. For me, she was a musical lighthouse, guiding and inspiring with every note. I loved her so and love her still. Goodbye, Queen of Soul.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) August 16, 2018
Salute to the Queen. The greatest vocalist I've ever known. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 #Aretha— John Legend (@johnlegend) August 16, 2018
"Looking out on the morning rain— Ava DuVernay (@ava) August 16, 2018
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew
I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you
Life was so unkind
But you're the key to
My peace of mind."
Her voice/swagger was peerless.
Thank you, #ArethaFranklin pic.twitter.com/5gp0OP10Jf
We mourn the passing of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Her voice will keep lifting us, through the music she gave the world. Our thoughts are with her family, her loved ones and fans everywhere. Take her hand, precious Lord, and lead her home. 🎶 pic.twitter.com/I84HTEVZU1— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) August 16, 2018
One of the greatest voices of all time has been silenced. My dear friend Aretha Franklin has passed. Even though her music will live on forever, the sound, the voice, and the inspiration of the Queen of Soul can never be matched. Farewell, Aretha.— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) August 16, 2018
One of the highlights of my career was singing with #ArethaFranklin at The Tony Awards. It was an out of body experience for me. One of greatest singers of all time. You will be missed by all. https://t.co/L8dIIhyR9Y— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) August 16, 2018
The Queen of Soul has left this earth to sit on her throne in heaven. How blessed we were to hear the best that God had to offer in her voice. RESPECT!— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) August 16, 2018
📷: Mark Seliger pic.twitter.com/v9OxtyrZ74
I'm sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit Aretha Franklin.— Ms. Ross (@DianaRoss) August 16, 2018
Rest easy #ARETHAFRANKLIN I imagine u in heaven performing & still making people souls move🙌🏾 this was my aunt favorite record #RockSteady you will always be the Queen of Soul you been that before many of us were born! Thank you for giving us LEGENDARY TIMELESS music 🙏🏾❤️ pic.twitter.com/bEueBCLGJ9— Missy Elliott (@MissyElliott) August 16, 2018
For as long as I can remember, Aretha Franklin has been the absolute zenith, the guiding light, the master for any girl that aspired to sing or even just appreciated someone at the top of... https://t.co/80krP8ci0R— Gloria Estefan (@GloriaEstefan) August 16, 2018
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.. A true legend and world icon...the greatest vocalist and entertainer of all time. Aretha paved the way for so many great artists, over 6 decades of music. Thank you for all of your contributions. My condolences and prayers are with the family. pic.twitter.com/akEgX7sv1j— Steve Harvey (@IAmSteveHarvey) August 16, 2018
Whether it was Gospel, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Pop,or Civil Rights, Aretha Franklin was the greatest gift and the voice of a generation. She could turn any song into a hymn. She will be greatly missed here on earth, but that band in heaven just got our Angel— Willie Nelson (@WillieNelson) August 16, 2018
Rest In Peace Aretha
Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul. The Icon. The ultimate singers' singer. The greatest singer and musician of my lifetime. The power of your voice in music and in civil rights blew open the door for me and so many others. You were my inspiration, my mentor and my friend. pic.twitter.com/YDQL2zzgdM— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) August 16, 2018
RIP Aretha Franklin— Gucci Mane (@gucci1017) August 16, 2018