“I am so saddened to report that the Queen of Soul and my good friend, Aretha Franklin is gravely ill,” the station’s Evord Cassimy tweeted. “I spoke with her family members this morning. She is asking for your prayers at this time.” The news was first reported by Showbiz 411 and later by TMZ, both citing unnamed family members; reps for the singer did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Franklin underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in December 2010 and has frequently been ill, while keeping a regular concert schedule, in the years since.
The singer, 76, was born in Memphis and is the daughter of the pastor and civil rights activist C. L. Franklin. She showed great talent as a child singing and playing piano in the church, and signed with Columbia Records as a teenager; the label attempted to fashion her as a pop singer. Yet she truly became Aretha Franklin after signing with Atlantic Records in 1966, releasing a succession of albums and singles of unparalleled power and emotional depth, including songs like “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Respect,” “Think” and many others.
Franklin is the most lionized and lauded female R&B vocalist of her era. Winner of 18 Grammy Awards, and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement honoree in 1994, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors.
She last performed in November at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala in New York (pictured above). At that performance — where John introduced her as “the greatest singer of all time” — Franklin appeared very slim but in fine voice as she delivered a nine-song set including “Say a Little Prayer,” “I Knew You Were Waiting” and “Freeway.” She was also honored at the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala in New York in January. Franklin did not perform, but Jennifer Hudson — who had been personally selected by the singer to play her in a forthcoming biopic — performed several of her hits.
In 2017 the singer said she’d planned to retire from touring in the coming months, and announced that she was working with longtime friends and collaborators Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Elton John on a new album. Her most recent album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”