by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
According to nytimes.com, American singer, pianist, and composer Aretha Franklin died at her home in Detroit surrounded by family and loved ones at the age of 76. The cause was advanced pancreatic cancer. She is survived by her four sons, Ted White Jr., Kecalf Cunningham, Clarence Franklin, and Edward Franklin.
Franklin, who began her unparalleled music career singing at her father Rev. C.L. Franklin‘s New Bethel Baptist Church, became an international superstar and chart-topper in the 1960s with such classic songs as “Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Respect,” and again in the 1980 and 1990s with “Jump To It,” “Freeway of Love,” “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose.” Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won 18 competitive Grammys across multiple decades, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Aretha was also involved in civil rights activism and philanthropy during her lifetime. Franklin, who Elle Magazine noted had it written into her contract in the 1960s that she would never perform for a segregated audience, was glad that the song “Respect” became linked to feminist and civil-rights movements. She added that the line “you know I’ve got it” has a direct feminist theme. “As women, we do have it,” Franklin said. “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.”
According to Vanity Fair, though Franklin didn’t participate in civil disobedience herself, she lent very public support to at least one person who did. In 1970, famous feminist activist, scholar, and a then-avowed member of the Communist Party Angela Davis was arrested at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Midtown Manhattan and incarcerated for 16 months for what were found to be wrongful kidnapping and murder charges. Jet magazine reported that Franklin was ready to cover Davis’s bond, “whether it was $100,000 or $250,000.” Davis was released on bail and cleared of her charges in 1972.
Locally, Aretha donated meals and hotel rooms to Flint residents at the onset of the city’s water crisis, last year she was honored with the dedication of Aretha Franklin Way in Detroit, and worked to renew and revitalize her hometown with projects and concerts.