‘Glimpse of the Divine’: Chicago Pays Respect to Aretha Franklin

"In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade," wrote former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama

What to Know

  • Aretha Franklin, the undisputed "Queen of Soul," died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.
  • Franklin performed in Chicago several times throughout her decades-long career.
  • She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.

Having watched her perform at his 2009 inauguration, Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama said each time Aretha Franklin sang "we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine." 

Reacting to news of the Queen of Soul's death Thursday, the Obamas said Franklin's music "remains to inspire us all." 

"Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience," their statement read. "In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance."

Franklin, revered for decades by adoring fans and fellow artists, died Thursday at the age of 76. As the news spread, other musicians, celebrities and leaders in politics and business took time to honor the legend who inspired so many with her powerhouse voice and renowned songs.

President Donald Trump tweeted that Franklin was "a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!" 

Franklin performed in Chicago several times throughout her decades-long career, including last summer at Ravinia. 

"This isn't the first time Aretha had us all crying," the venue wrote in a statement Thursday. "This once-in-ten-lifetimes talent took us to church over the radio in very turbulent times and in joyous times. She was an absolute joy to know, and in a way we all knew her. That's what makes it especially hard when someone who was so much a part of our social fabric leaves us, and we have no personal way of saying goodbye. Put the records on. Let the tears flow. And pay her the respect that both the song and her life demanded." 

She even cut a giant inaugural cheesecake from Eli's cheescake for Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.

"We couldn’t believe that we were so lucky to have Aretha Franklin cut Eli’s 2,000 lb. Red White and Bill Cheesecake we created for the first inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton," Marc and Maureen Schulman, of Eli's Cheesecake, said in a statement. "She was so immensely popular, we had to form a human wedge around her to move the few feet from the limo to the cake. Aretha was an incredibly good sport, and didn’t even mind that a few graham cracker crumbs from the cake got on her sable coat." 

Rev. Jesse Jackson said "there will never be another queen."

"My heart is heavy and in so much pain," he wrote in a statement. "A lot of music left earth today. The Heavens rejoice. Aretha, my sister beloved and friend with the four octave range and inimitable sound, has gone even higher. She had been battling a debilitating illness over the last few years. She fought as gallantly as she sang, with faith, power and dignity."

Jackson remembered meeting Franklin when he was a young civil rights worker. He was later asked to deliver the eulogy at her father's funeral in 1984.

"I play her music constantly, – as I travel, as I think, as I write, as I dream. Aretha sang our triumphs, our testimonies, our grief, our struggles. I know I’m not alone in that. She sold more than 75 million records and won 18 Grammys. Whatever mood you found yourself in Aretha has soothed it through song and unwavering direction," he said. 

"We shall never, ever forget her crowning glory," he added. "She was a world transformer. She did not own sickness. She owned health. She owned joy, power, love, music. Aretha sang so well and served so many as a Franklin, yet she belongs to all of us. Forever ours, Aretha."

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