Earlier this week, news broke that legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin was “gravely ill,” according to her family. Today (Aug. 16), Franklin’s longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn confirmed that the artist has died at 76 after battling pancreatic cancer.
Since the news spread of Franklin’s condition, she was soon after visited by Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson and others. A tribute concert — dubbed Clive Davis Presents: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin — was quickly planned as well, and is set for Nov. 14 at Madison Square Garden. A lineup has yet to be announced.
Praise for Franklin is nothing new, certainly: The icon has been garnering it from the start. Since her early days playing piano on demos to the moment she gave “Respect” new life, here are some of the best acknowledgements of the star’s singular talents.
“I had to scratch my head and ask myself, How the fuck did that bitch do that? I remember running into Sarah Vaughan, who always intimidated me. Sarah said, ‘Have you heard of this Aretha Franklin girl?’ I said, ‘You heard her do ‘Skylark,’ didn’t you?’ Sarah said, ‘Yes, I did, and I’m never singing that song again.’” — Etta James, from David Ritz’ Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, 2014
“Aretha is a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing. Aretha has everything – the power, the technique. She is honest with everything she says.” — Mary J. Blige, from Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Singers of All Time, on which Franklin ranks No. 1, 2008
“I just lost my song. That girl took it away from me.” — Otis Redding to producer Jerry Wexler after hearing her version of “Respect” in the studio for the first time, 1967
“When I first heard Aretha sing… it’s just something that she has, and the way she makes me people feel,y’know, is what I wanted to have… I said, ‘If I could ever be a singer, that’s the way I’d want to make people feel. I want to have that kind of gut feeling, where I could make myself feel good, and make everybody else feel good.” — Whitney Houston, from a Rolling Stone video interview, 1986
“[Aretha sang] the way black folk sing when they leave themselves alone.” — Ray Charles, from Michael Lydon’s Ray Charles: Man and Music, 1998
“Ms. Aretha is one of my main go to’s for inspiration. Her piano playing, gospel, soul style is something that you literally have to be DEAD not to feel and she always brings me light and strength even through her most vulnerable performances. ‘Ain’t No Way’ is one of my favorite songs in the world. You can tell that song was one of the realest moments in her life. That is music at its best. Capturing an honest moment.” — Alicia Keys, listing her 25 favorite albums for Complex, 2012
“She’s the best, quite simply. As much as I love a lot of other female artists, there’s no one who touches her, really.” — George Michael from the American Masters: Aretha Franklin – The Queen of Soul documentary, 1988
“Aretha Franklin’s phrasing is just wonderful, so effortless. I wish I could sing like her. She sings like a dream, she doesn’t have to think about it.” — Freddie Mercury speaking on the TV show Night Flight, 1984
“If you look at the end of it, I was heading towards the backup singers. ‘Coz I felt that’s where I belonged. When Aretha sings, you don’t stand there and try to compete with the Queen of Soul. You revere her.” — Mariah Carey following her Divas Live performance with Aretha, 1998.
“[She’s] the greatest singer of all time.” — Elton John at his AIDS Foundation Gala, 2017
Additional reporting by Andrew Unterberger.