(RNN) – Aretha Franklin has died, a publicist told the Associated Press.
She had been ill for some time.
Franklin's voice – a powerful instrument that could instantly go from smooth and smothering to powerful and piercing – was unmistakable.
Her voice is associated with an era of transformative music in the 1960s and 1970s as well as with some of the most important singular events in American history.
She performed at the inauguration of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, in 2009 and also sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., a close personal friend of her father.
The "Queen of Soul" was an 18-time Grammy winner with gospel roots and had an inarguable impact on popular culture.
Franklin's ability to survive personal and professional storms added to her legacy and ensured that her title as royalty in R&B music would not pass on to anyone else.
She was a hit from an early age, leaving home at 18 with the support of her father to sign a recording deal with Columbia Records, a company she chose over RCA and hometown label Motown.
After marginal success, a move to Atlantic Records in 1967 sparked a string of top-10 hits that launched her among the industry's greats.
She recorded "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," an album that included "Respect," an enduring song people immediately think of when they think of Franklin. The song was a cover of an Otis Redding original, but when Franklin made it her own, it went to No. 1 on the pop and R&B charts and won her the first two of many Grammys.
She continued to adapt, endured and came back strong with a slightly different sound in the 1980s, starting with the Grammy-nominated and critically acclaimed album "Jump to It." Consecutive gold albums in 1985 and 1986 meant Franklin was back, and judging by her record sales, she was better than ever.
She became the first female member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after her induction in 1987, and 15 years later, she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in Memphis on March 25, 1942, the fourth of C.L. and Barbara (Siggers) Franklin's five children. After her parents' separation when she was 4, Aretha, her father and three of her siblings moved to Detroit where C.L. Franklin took an assignment as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church.
C.L. Franklin was a highly popular minister and coveted public speaker who possessed a fine singing voice himself. Aretha sang in her father's choir and traveling revival shows, which had included famous gospel singers Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson.
Aretha Franklin was not known as a political activist, but she lent her voice to the civil rights movement in numerous ways. She sang at rallies that King led and was also an integral part of her father's weekly radio address, which reached black people across the country.
Despite a hot start to her professional singing career, the 1970s were not nice to Franklin. She struggled to find a place for her soulful sound amid a time when disco ruled.
However, the decade was not a bust by a long shot. The 1972 release of "Amazing Grace" sold 2 million copies, the highest-selling gospel album of all time.
Although other album sales during that time were underwhelming, she recorded many hit singles and won Grammys every year until 1976, a streak that spanned eight years.
She endured several hardships later in life when her second son, Edward, was severely beaten in a gas station attack; multiple health issues struck that included a battle with obesity; and her dear friend Whitney Houston died.
Franklin worked with Houston's mother, Cissy, on studio projects, and a bond formed soon afterward.
"She knew how to be glamorous and graceful. She had class," Franklin said about Houston in a Rolling Stone article weeks after Houston's 2012 death. "She knew where she was going. It was clear her and her mother both had a similar quality to their voices – the genetics were just unbelievable. Just like her mom, she was one of the great sopranos."
Franklin took heavy criticism for not attending Houston's funeral, at which she was scheduled to perform. A representative said a leg injury prevented Franklin from going, but she paid tribute to Houston the night of her funeral during a sold-out performance at Radio City Music Hall.
Some of Franklin's most successful years professionally were also her most turbulent personally.
Franklin had two children from relationships when she was a teenager. She gave birth to her first child, Clarence, when she was 14 years old and had another son, Edward, 14 months later. Her grandmother raised both children in Detroit while Franklin was touring and establishing her music career.
A 1968 Time magazine article reported Franklin was in an abusive relationship with her first husband, Ted White, who was also her manager. Franklin and White divorced in 1969 after seven years of marriage. The two had a son, Ted White Jr., who later became a musician in his mother's tour band.
While married to White, Franklin had an extramarital relationship with road manager Ken Cunningham that lasted several years. The affair produced another son, Kecalf.
Franklin's second marriage was in 1978 to actor Glynn Turman, but the union ended in 1984.
Franklin was twice set to marry longtime companion William Wilkerson – first in 1987 and again in 2012 – but each time the weddings were called off.
After half a century in the music business, Franklin created her own label and released "A Woman Falling Out of Love," a record that only had modest sales in the U.S and stayed on the Billboard charts for just two weeks.
"Fifty-two years of recording for other people – I thought, at this point, it's time for you to record for yourself," Franklin said in a 2010 interview with Time. "That way there wouldn't be so many spoons in the soup. There would just be one Aretha spoon in the soup, and I'll take responsibility for all of it."
Franklin continued touring for much of her life, despite medical problems in 2011, 2013 and 2017. She announced her retirement in February 2017 and last performed live at Elton John's annual AIDS foundation gala in November 2017.
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