Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul who understood vocal harmony and phrasing perhaps better than any of her female pop and soul contemporaries, died Thursday.
Ms. Franklin’s publicist confirmed her death, the Associated Press reported. She was 76 years old.
A church-trained pianist and organist who often accompanied herself on recordings and in concert, Aretha Franklin—thanks to her powerful, flexible voice and fierce delivery—was the most commanding and influential vocalist of her generation. When Ms. Franklin let out a gospel wail or added an “Oh, yes I am” as a spiritual fill, her songs became urgent messages and awakened the emotions of anyone with a heart.
Between 1961 and 1998, 88 of Ms. Franklin’s singles reached Billboard’s pop chart, with 17 rising into the top 10. She won 18 Grammy Awards, and five of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Yet only two of her singles hit No. 1, while just six of her 46 charted studio albums managed to reach the top 10, a trend that was due largely to Ms. Franklin’s reluctance to adapt to changing times.
Painfully insecure, fearful of flying and perennially distrustful of those surrounding her, Ms. Franklin never let her psychological challenges overtake her performances. With her head reared back slightly, her mouth open in a smile and her voice effortlessly rising to sing in any octave, she became transformed in front of a microphone.