Soul and gospel singer Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday at the age of 76, spoke and sang of her Christian faith throughout her 62-year career.
A lifelong Baptist, the singer universally known as just “Aretha” gave God the credit for her unique voice, starting out in the 1950s as part of her pastor father’s gospel revue. She made her first recording at the age of 14 at his New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
Best known for secular hits such as (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Respect, Aretha recorded a best-selling gospel album, Amazing Grace, in 1972, which is among the five Aretha recordings featured in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The two-record set includes the classic John Newton hymn as well as What a Friend We Have in Jesus and God Will Take Care of You.
That same year, she sang Precious Lord, Take My Hand, at the funeral of revered gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson.
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In 1987, the year she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, she recorded One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, an album of sacred songs that won a Grammy for best soul performance.
“Smokey said, ‘Well, they just don’t know who your healer is.’” -Aretha Franklin
One of her most recent Grammy wins was in 2007 for Never Gonna Break My Faith with Mary J. Blige.
Aretha had battled cancer since 2010, but rarely talked about it. In 2013 after cancelling a series of concerts due to an undisclosed condition, she told The Associated Press that her healing was considered “absolutely miraculous”.
“I was talking to Smokey Robinson, my oldest best friend Smokey, talking about the fact that some doctors are not very well acquainted with faith healing,” she said. “And Smokey said, ‘Well, they just don’t know who your healer is.’”
She also asked for prayer “until I am 100 per cent, not 85, and back on stage.”
When asked in 2017 by the Chicago Sun-Times about the importance of her faith, Aretha said: “It is very important. It certainly has sustained me to this day.”