Soul icon Aretha Franklin, age 76, died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday at her home in Detroit, Michigan. Franklin was known for her many chart-topping hits, including “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “I’ve Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” and “Think.” Her songs have been used in countless films, television shows and advertisements, reaching the hearts of generation after generation.
Few have ever achieved the level of success that Franklin enjoyed. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. She received both the Grammy Legend Award (1991) and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) for her contributions to American music. In 2005, she became one of the select few to receive the highest civilian honor our country can bestow: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her music has been equally decorated, with her song “Respect” being rated the fifth greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2004.
Franklin was a trailblazer, being part of a wave of prominent black artists to achieve mainstream popularity in the 1960s and performing music that highlighted female strength. Her dedication to civil rights was often noted, most prominently when she performed at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her story and songs continue to inspire listeners with hopeful messages about personal agency and empowerment.
Considering the audience of this paper, many of the readers were probably unfamiliar with Franklin’s personal life. Any disappointment comes, not from the loss of the woman, but the creator of such excellent music. With that in mind, this becomes less a situation to grieve over a death and more a chance to celebrate the enduring body of work that Franklin produced.
I’d like to end this story on a personal note. On Thursday night, I was working at a 3 Doors Down concert at Mohegan Sun Arena. As guests were entering, someone began to play Aretha Franklin music over the loudspeaker. By the time a few songs had gone by, the whole crowd of thousands were dancing, singing along or mouthing the words. Even in an arena filled with people who had come to see an alternative rock band from the 2000s, people still knew and loved Franklin’s music. While this says little about Franklin herself, it speaks volumes about her music. Young and old, white and black: Franklin’s music has found a way to touch all Americans. It has been 58 years since the release of Franklin’s first successful album, and it seems a sure bet that her music will continue to thrive in the American spirit for many generations.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.