Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has died at the age of 76. The news broke not long after reports began surfacing detailing Franklin’s ailing health. The singer’s publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn, released a statement to the Associated Press (via The Washington Post) from the star’s family saying she passed away at 9:50 a.m. at her Detroit home. “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute,” the statement read in part.
In 2017, Franklin, who was experiencing undisclosed health problems, retired from touring. Still, the news of her passing is shocking and many have begun to mourn the loss of the iconic superstar. “We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on,” her family revealed in their statement.
There is no doubt that Franklin’s legacy will, indeed, continue. To start, here are some things you probably never knew about the late and great singer.
She was a “traumatized child”
Ruth Bowen, Franklin’s booking agent, detailed the singer’s early life in the biography Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. “She was a traumatized child — that’s who she was,” said Bowen. As her biography explains, Franklin’s biological mother took her youngest son, Vaughn, and left her husband and her four other children behind.
Although Franklin and her siblings would visit with their mother on a somewhat regular basis, custody was awarded to Franklin’s father — which was highly unusual being as this was the 1940s — because he had the means to care for the children.
Not long after Franklin’s mother left her father, she suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. “Aretha was ten when that happened,” Bowen explained, “And it happened just like that — no preparation, no warning.” Her mother’s passing hit Franklin hard. So hard, in fact, that her father feared she’d never recover. “She was unable to talk for weeks. She crawled into a shell and didn’t come out until many years later,” Bowen added.
She took to music at a young age
“What brought her [out of her shell], of course, was the music,” said Bowen. It was her minister father’s Baptist church that Franklin would first experiment with music. Although the young Franklin was saddened by the loss of her mother, she belted out songs amazingly well. “It was gospel filled with blues. I mean, frighteningly strong blues, beautifully mature blues,” Bowen detailed. Afterward, Franklin would return to her seat and go back to being the sad and quiet child her father had worried so much about.
Nevertheless, her love of music persisted. “Everyone who’d gone to our church knew Ree [Aretha] could sing ’cause she started so young. But her piano playing was a whole separate talent” her brother Cecil Franklin explained in his sister’s biography. He detailed Franklin’s incredible gift, saying, “Her ear was infallible.” She had the ability to hear a song — just once — and be able to play it back “note for note.” Just as she was able to do with the piano, she was able to listen to vocals and replicate exactly what she’d heard. “That’s the talent they call genius,” her brother said. Genius, indeed.
She met her first husband when she was just a preteen
According to Respect, Franklin met her eventual first husband, Ted White, when she was just a preteen in 1954. He was attending a party thrown by Franklin’s father in the family’s home. White would go on to become Franklin’s manager and, some two years after the two met, Franklin released her very first album, a collection of gospels entitled “Songs of Faith.” She was just 14 when her first songs were recorded. Then, in 1961, Franklin and White married.
The two had a very tumultuous relationship. “Ted White was a highly possessive husband and could be a scary character,” Franklin’s older sister, Erma, said (via Full English Books). Record producer Clyde Otis further explained, “[Franklin] had problems with Ted but she also had problems of her own … I saw that she’d get down in the dumps sometimes and didn’t want to work.” He explained how White would push Franklin to work. “Maybe she needed that push. But I also saw that sometimes that push became a shove. He didn’t hesitate slapping her around and didn’t care who saw him do it,” he explained. The couple divorced in 1969.
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