Aretha Franklin, the self-taught piano prodigy, vocalist and songwriter who first conquered the charts in the late ’60s and never relinquished her throne, died Thursday morning of advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, her publicist confirms to PEOPLE. She was 76.
“In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds,” the family said in a statement.
“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.
The Queen of Soul had struggled with her health for years. A source told PEOPLE Monday that Franklin had taken a turn for the worse and that her death was “imminent.”
“She has been ill for a long time,” the longtime friend told PEOPLE. “She did not want people to know and she didn’t make it public.”
A musical phenomenon who crossed musical, racial and gender barriers, Franklin began her vocal career as a teenager, singing gospel hymns in her father’s Detroit church. From these humble beginnings she scaled to the very heights of stardom, scoring her first national chart-topper in 1967 with a searing version of “Respect.”
Since then, the artist has notched 77 Hot 100 chart entries, and earned an astounding 18 Grammys out of 44 nominations. In 1987, two decades after her first No. 1, Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and was later named the Greatest Singer of All Time by Rolling Stone.
Source – people.com