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In December 2015, at the Kennedy Center Honors, ARETHA FRANKLIN gave a stunning performance of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ in front of honoree CAROLE KING, who co-wrote the song. Carole (pictured bottom left) promptly went off her brain and cried buckets. Carole wasn’t the only one who was moved to tears. ‘American history wells up when Aretha sings,’ President Obama explained after being caught on film wiping his eyes. ‘Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.’ During the song’s bridge, Aretha dropped her floor-length fur coat to the stage, and the audience rose mid-performance to give her a standing ovation. She later said that it was one of the best nights of her life. (Photo courtesy of CBS: montage by L.J. May)

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LET’S HEAR AN ‘AMEN’ FOR ARETHA FRANKLIN AND THE MUSIC SHE BROUGHT INTO OUR LIVES!

ARETHA FRANKLIN died of advanced pancreatic cancer on Thursday, 16 August 2018 at the age of 76. Aretha, who sang at the inaugurations of three Democratic presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, was an American institution.

Aretha was loved and admired by a wide range of people around the world, often by those to whom she was a thorn in the side because of her unrelenting fight for human rights. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Republican (then) President George W Bush in 2005. 

Franklin’s family said in a statement: ‘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.’

On Saturday, 1 September 2018 the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit church swelled with gospel music as hundreds of mourners gathered for her funeral. Aretha was always partial to a glamorous outfit and for her last open casket appearance, her friends did her proud. According to the Detroit Free Press, she wore a sparkling gold floor-length dress paired with sequinned heels. It was her fourth and final outfit change of the week.

Before the funeral service, her many fans were able to pay their last respects at a public open-casket viewing streamed from the rotunda of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the city Franklin called home.

On Tuesday, Aretha was dressed in a red suit and crimson pumps, then on Wednesday, she was changed into a powder blue dress. For the last public open-casket viewing, which held at New Bethel Baptist Church, where she got her start, Franklin was dressed in a rose gold St. John's gown and gold Christian Louboutin heels. Oh my!

Aretha’s fans had no intention of letting the Queen of Soul leave with a minimum of fuss. More than 100 pink Cadillacs escorted Aretha’s hearse to Greater Grace Temple in honour of her 1985 hit ‘Freeway of Love,’ in which she sings about driving in a pink Cadillac. The cover of the funeral program showed a young Aretha Franklin wearing sunglasses, with the words ‘A Celebration Fit For The Queen’ written across it.

Bill Clinton entered the church with his wife Hillary to loud applause and stood quietly by Franklin's open casket before the service started. Highlighting her Christian roots, Grammy-nominated gospel singer Marvin Sapp took to the stage. From stunning performances by Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Faith Hill and Stevie Wonder, to the attendance of more stars than you could poke a stick at, Aretha Franklin's funeral in Detroit was truly fit for a queen. She would have loved it.

As the choir and orchestra swayed behind him, the officiant, Bishop Charles Ellis III, urged the congregation to get involved by insisting: ‘Come on, this is a church service – lift your voice!’ And they did, clapping and singing before tributes by former US president, Bill Clinton, and singer, Stevie Wonder. Further tributes from former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were read aloud.

During the seven-hour service, civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton honoured Franklin's contributions to the 1960s civil rights movement. Mr Sharpton took to the pulpit to call her the soundtrack of the movement, with songs such as her 1967 signature hit ‘Respect.’

Aretha Franklin received numerous honours throughout her career, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 (the first female performer ever to be inducted), the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

Aretha Franklin is listed in two all-time lists by Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2008 she was ranked by Rolling Stone as the No. 1 greatest singer of all time.

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With her heartfelt vocals and magical piano skills, ARETHA FRANKLIN delivered unique performances of soul, R&B, pop, gospel and jazz songs, which provided the musical background to the lives of millions of people around the world. Her career began as a child, singing gospel at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father C.L. Franklin was minister. After signing with Atlantic Records in 1966, Aretha achieved both acclaim and commercial success with songs such as ‘Respect’, ‘Think’, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, and ‘I say a Little Prayer’. By the end of the 1960s she was being called ‘The Queen of Soul’. Aretha Franklin leaves behind a legacy of wonderful music and, sadly, we will not see her like again. (Photo montage by L.J. May)