Aretha Franklin, Soul Legend and Icon of Civil Rights and Feminist Movements, Dies at 76

"Aretha Franklin was a force behind the scenes during the civil rights movement—donating concert proceeds, posting bail for activists, hosting fundraisers, and using her platform to promote voting rights."

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Legendary soul singer and civil rights icon Aretha Franklin died on Thursday morning. (Photo: @TIDAL/Twitter)

Legendary soul singer, feminist, and civil rights icon Aretha Franklin died early on Thursday morning. Often called the "Queen of Soul" as well as the "Voice of Black America," she was 76 years old.

Franklin was renowned for her rendition of Otis Redding's "Respect," which became a feminist anthem; "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman;" and "Think"—for the power of her voice and her passionate performances as well as her ability to help galvanize black Americans and women, two groups who were fighting for rights and respect from their government and fellow citizens when the singer began releasing records in the 1960s.

"'Respect' became a soundtrack for the 1960s," when it was released in 1967, wrote DeNeen L. Brown in the Washington Post. "Franklin, then just 24 years old, infused it with a soulful and revolutionary demand, a declaration of independence that was unapologetic, uncompromising and unflinching."

Franklin's rendition was adopted by both two separate social justice movements, Brown noted:

The song was a demand for something that could no longer be denied. She had taken a man’s demand for respect from a woman when he got home from work and flipped it. The country had never heard anything like it...

'Respect' would become an anthem for the black-power movement, as symbolic and powerful as Nina Simone’s 'Mississippi Goddam' and Sam Cooke’s 'A Change is Gonna Come.'

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 25, 1942, and raised mainly in Detroit, Franklin had been personally affected by segregation.

"The blues is a music born out of the slavery day sufferings of my people," she told the Amsterdam News in 1961 after moving to New York to begin her music career.

Franklin sang both at the funeral of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama forty years later.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Franklin was in hospice care at her home in Detroit. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

In her final days, many friends, including civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, visited her bedside.

"Aretha has always been a very socially conscious artist, an inspiration, not just an entertainer," Jackson told the Detroit Free Press. “She has shared her points of view from the stage for challenged people, to register to vote, to stand up for decency."

"She was the proud, fiery voice of dignity and r-e-s-p-e-c-t for a generation," wrote Rashod Ollison at The Root. "Everything you needed to know about her—the pain, the joy, the faith, the strength—was etched in every note she sang. Simply put, if you didn’t feel Aretha, you didn’t possess a soul."

On social media, admirers of both Franklin's music and her contribution to the civil rights and women's liberation movements wrote about her legacy.

 

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