'A Beacon of Humanity': Music Industry Pays Tribute to Aretha Franklin

The death of Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, has been met with heartache and boundless respect from all corners of the music business. Labels, luminaries and industry associations from Atlantic Records to the CEO of Apple are eulogizing the music icon on Thursday morning following her passing in Detroit at 76.

"I'm absolutely devastated by Aretha’s passing," said Clive Davis, who signed Franklin to his Arista Records in 1980, on Twitter. "She was truly one of a kind.  She was more than the Queen of Soul.  She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world. Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend.  Her loss is deeply profound and my heart is full of sadness."

Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald, co-chairmen at Atlantic Records, Franklin's label home during her peak commercial years, issued a joint statement heralding her "unequaled impact on artists" worldwide.

"Aretha Franklin was a pillar of Atlantic Records and transformed global culture," Kallman and Greenwald said. "From that day in January 1967, when producer Jerry Wexler took Aretha to Muscle Shoals, Alabama and she sat down at the piano to record her first Atlantic record, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” music was never the same. Back then, there was no one who sang the way she did, who took the roots of gospel and R&B and infused them with that originality, power, fervor, and depth. Aretha was always in charge – of the songs she sang and the songs she wrote; how she sang them and how she played them. In her dozen years with Atlantic, she created a phenomenal body of work that entered the timeless musical canon and has had an unequaled impact on artists across the globe.

"Aretha’s prodigious talent came from a place of honesty, integrity, and strength, and her boundary-breaking approach extended far beyond her music. She was a tireless champion of civil rights and social justice, and above all, a global citizen who strived her entire life to erase boundaries of race, culture, gender, and nationality. All of us in the Atlantic family are deeply proud to be a part of her extraordinary legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with her friends and family at this very difficult time."

The Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow touted Franklin's 18 Grammy Awards and charitable efforts in his comments, caller her an "incomparable artist who came to be recognized as one of the most profound voices in music. 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. 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."

Ken Ehrlich, longtime Grammy Awards producer, offered a heartfelt tribute that of course mentions Franklin's transcendent 1998 performance at the Grammys when she filled in for a sick Luciano Pavarotti.

"The passing of Aretha Franklin is seismic. Virtually every great singing voice, male or female, from 1966 on, has taken a little or a lot from the Queen of Soul. Without Aretha, there would not be an Adele, a Beyonce, a JHud, a Bono, a George Michael or any of the hundreds of other great artists who aspire to emulate her. Her instrument, her phrasing, her ability to sing in front of, on, or behind the beat has been a living tutorial to successive generations of Christinas, Ariana’s, Demi’s etc. Working with her often over the past 37 years was one of the true honors of my life and no moment was greater than Grammy night 1998 when she filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and, with less than 90 minutes notice, gave us perhaps the greatest “Grammy Moment” ever.

Her legacy, no matter how the musical landscape changes, will endure, and those of us lucky enough to have had her cross our paths will always remember those moments when she would take off the wrap, head to the stage and the hurricane would begin as soon as the downbeat hit."

More tributes rolling in:

Mitch Glazier, president, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA): "Today is a sad day. Music has lost its queen. Aretha was a force of nature, a musical pioneer and ambassador, and a powerful messenger for equality and respect.  She was truly one of a kind.  Our hearts go out to her family, friends, and all those who grieve the loss of an amazing musical icon. “

Max Lousada, Warner Music Group's CEO, recorded music: "There are great artists and there are transcendent artists – artists who break new barriers and take us to places we never imagined. Aretha elevated soul from genre to high art. She defied musical categorization, bringing her phenomenal talent to R&B, pop, blues, gospel, rock, jazz, and classical music. Aretha’s influence on music, culture, and history is incalculable. We will be forever grateful for everything that she accomplished as an artist, a woman, and a beacon of humanity."

Sony Music, parent of Columbia Records (Franklin's first big label): "Aretha Franklin was one of the most iconic voices in music history and a brilliant artist. Over the course of her decades-long career, which included many years with the Sony Music family, she inspired countless musicians and fans, and created a legacy that paved the way for a long line of strong female artists. Sony Music joins the world in mourning her passing."

Greg Harris, president & CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Franklin in 1987: "Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen."

Henry Beecher Hicks III, president of the National Museum of African American Music: "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. We hope that her journey is a peaceful one. While we look forward to celebrating her at the National Museum of African American Music, she will be sorely missed."

James Donio, president of the Music Business Association (Music Biz): "The Music Business Association and music fans around the world are extremely saddened by the news of the passing of the legendary Aretha Franklin. Simply put, there was no one like her. Her voice was one for the ages. Aretha was honored by our Association with numerous awards for her hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s. On a personal note, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in the audience at the 1998 Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York when Aretha surprised everyone when she came on stage in place of Luciano Pavarotti, who had taken ill and could not perform. Aretha then proceeded to completely take the audience’s collective breath away as she majestically delivered her own unique rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma.’ People are still talking about that moment 20 years later. Music Biz sends its deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Aretha’s family, friends, and colleagues and to the millions and millions of her fans circling the globe who will continue enjoying her artistry for eternity."

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, which presented Franklin with the Vanguard award in 2008: “What would our struggle or American society be without the music of Aretha? Her unmitigated 'Blackness' and contributions to art and national progress places her on the Mt. Everest of American icons who changed this society for the better."

Michael Huppe, president/CEO of SoundExchange: Aretha Franklin was many things. The Queen of Soul. The original pop diva. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. To SoundExchange, she was a cherished member of the family. From her childhood days singing gospel at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit to her last performance in November in New York City to support the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Aretha Franklin was the undisputed star of the show. Her exuberant style and fearless attitude set the standard for others to follow. The SoundExchange family mourns the loss of one of its own. She will be greatly missed by the music community and millions of fans who adored her. Respect.

Cathy Hughes, founder/chairperson of Urban One, Inc.: "Today I join my community, my industry and the world in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of my dear sister, friend, and ally, Aretha Franklin. I send my love and offer prayers of grace and peace to the members of her family, her friends and colleagues who walked alongside her and shared her with tens of millions of fans around the world.

I have so many fond memories of Aretha. Throughout her career, I was blessed to share her music and her iconic story. I am humbled to have been a part of her journey and to have served as an eyewitness to the evolution of her artistry and the formation of her legacy. 

Like many of our musicians, Aretha's musical roots are embedded in the black church, and gospel music was at her core. Her talent transcended genres and not only earned her the title of the "Queen of Soul" but also the distinction of being the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while many will remember her for all of the titles she has received, I believe, Aretha Franklin, in her own words, said it best,'being a singer is a natural gift. It means I'm using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I'm happy with that.' 

And Aretha Franklin, so are we. Rest in peace my sister."



Finally, the Twitter Tributes:

President Barack Obama:

Columbia Records:


Tim Cook, Apple CEO:




Live Nation:



The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.