The entertainment world is expressing its sorrow over the loss of the legendary “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, who passed away Thursday at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.
According to the Associated Press, publicist Gwendolyn Quinn issued a family statement saying that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit.
The statement said “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” in Detroit.
In response, a joint statement from producers and songwriters Kenneth “Kenny” Gamble and Leon Huff, who are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Franklin, said, “We not only admire Aretha Franklin for her singing ability, but we appreciate what she did to uplift the community. We have always been honored and elated — and are still on ‘Cloud Nine’ — for having her cover two of our songs, ‘A Brand New Me’ and ‘Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas Without the One You Love.’ While we never got the opportunity to work directly with Aretha, she was our dear friend.
“We send our deepest and sincere condolences out to her family,” they added. “She was truly the best.”
Speaking at his home, Gamble, who met Franklin in the ‘60s on the “club circuit” while frequenting such hot spots as the Cadillac Club and Pep’s Show Bar, expressed regret that he never had the opportunity to work with the bold and supremely talented “Queen of Soul.”
“What I envisioned was that me and Aretha and Huff would sit down and write some songs together,” he said. “Just like ‘Brand New Me.’ We had it one way, but she took it and did a whole different thing. We did it with Dusty [Springfield] and we did it with Jerry Butler. And the funny thing is, Aretha had such style playing that piano. It sounded like gospel, rhythm and blues ... more gospel than anything.”
Gamble was also impressed with Franklin’s versatility as an artist, citing her celebrated rendition of “Nessun Dorma” from the Puccini opera “Turandot.”
“She tore that joker up,” he laughed.
One of the people who knew Franklin best was Bernard Purdie, her longtime music director and drummer, best known for his unforgettable “breakdown” solo in the hit dance tune, “Rock Steady.”
“For me, the hits were only part of what Aretha was about,” Purdie said exclusively to The Philadelphia Tribune. “I actually had the chance and the opportunity to work with her live for 25 years, besides the hits. So I got a chance to get to know her, and to understand her, and to really find out why she was such a diva.”
“The main reason was, so many people would try to emulate her, and that’s what she felt,” said Purdie, who also played on Franklin’s hit, “Till You Come Back to Me,” a mellow Stevie Wonder composition. “She always felt that she had to go one step further. That truly was her biggest message, because for her, she had to show everybody that ‘I am Aretha Franklin! You can say what you want, but I’m going to do the job, and nobody else!’ And she always did. When she was down, up, didn’t feel good ... whatever. When she decided to work, it was work. But it was always a pleasure.”
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, also fondly remembered the inimitable soul singer. “Aretha Franklin was an incomparable artist who came to be recognized as one of the most profound voices in music,” he said in a statement. “Known universally as the Queen of Soul, she solidified her legendary status in the late 1960s with chart-topping recordings that included “Respect,” “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)” and “Think.”
“During her six-decade career, Aretha earned 44 Grammy nominations, 18 Grammy awards, and was recognized by the Recording Academy on several occasions for her remarkable accomplishments as an artist and philanthropist,” the statement said. “We were privileged to honor her with the Recording Academy’s Grammy Legend Award in 1991, the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, and as the 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year for her extraordinary artistic achievements and charitable efforts. Her distinctive sound, unforgettable recordings and giving spirit will continue to be celebrated worldwide. Aretha will be dearly missed, and our thoughts go out to her loved ones during this difficult time.”
With condolences pouring in from across the country, the National Museum of African American Music also issued a statement on the passing of the American icon, saying, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of iconic soul singer Aretha Franklin this morning.
“The Queen of Soul” was born in Memphis, steeped in the gospel tradition of her father’s church, and made an indelible impression on American popular music with songs like “Respect” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”
Her powerful voice and skillful songwriting made Franklin one of the top-selling artists of all time and earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, several honorary degrees, an array of lifetime achievement awards and a place in the hearts of Americans.
Franklin’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians is too pervasive to sum up in a few words; but perhaps President Barack Obama described it best when he said that her music “captures the fullness of the American experience, the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
“Aretha Franklin was a true genius of American music,” he said. “We hope that her journey is a peaceful one. While we look forward to celebrating her at the National Museum of American Music, she will be sorely missed.”
When asked how he would remember the legendary Aretha Franklin, Gamble said introspectively, “For those out there who are feeling a little sad, there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad, because we lost a family member in Aretha Franklin, and it just shows that no matter who you are, every soul is going to face death. So whatever we have to do, whatever we want to do, do it while you’re thinking about it. Get it done, and try to live your best life.”