For more than half a century Aretha Franklin was a constant presence in our lives. The Queen of Soul was not just a honorific bestowed on the singer, but a title well-earned by a one-of-a-kind performer who was as comfortable singing gospel hymns as she was belting out R&B and pop hits and operatic arias.
The daughter of a pianist and a renowned minister, Rev. C. L. Franklin, Aretha wowed audiences across the globe during her 60-plus year career, playing for fans in smoky clubs to presidents and kings.
In honor of her passing on Thursday (Aug. 16) at age 76, Billboard has collected some of Franklin’s most iconic pop culture moments.
Singing the National Anthem at Vikings Vs. Lions Game 2016
Forget about hitting the notes, Franklin not only performed the notoriously tricky Anthem with ease while seated at a piano before the frigid Thanksgiving day game, she took it to church in a nearly five-plus master class.
2015 Kennedy Center Honors “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
In one of her last widely seen public performances, Franklin brought Pres. Obama to tears with her soaring rendition of this signature hit in a tribute to honoree Carole King. Seated at a piano in a flowing fur coat — which she dramatically tossed off halfway through — and gold-brocade dress, Franklin proved she hadn’t lost a step with an emotional run through the King-penned song that had the crowd (including the Obamas and King) singing along silently so as not to miss a single, heaven-scraping note.
President Obama’s 2008 inauguration
While there was much talk about the singer’s gigantic hair bow, the real news from this towering performance was how Aretha was able to overcome the frigid conditions to absolutely crush “My Country Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of the nation’s first black president.
“Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammys
Stepping in for her ailing friend Luciano Pavarotti at the last minute (with 20 minutes notice, no less), Franklin reset the bar for her own excellence at the annual awards show with a captivating, emotional version of the Puccini number that ended with a High B for the ages, which had Celine Dion losing her mind.
VH1 Divas performance with Mariah Carey (1998)
What’s better than one diva? What about two? In one of the most unforgettable moments in the VH1 series’ history, Franklin shared the stage with Carey for a dynamic duet on “Chain of Fools,” during which Aretha showed the young star a thing or two about slaying a room. She also sang “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” live with Carole King for the first time ever, so that was amazing.
Bill Clinton’s inaugural gala 1992
Franklin, who also sang at democratic president Jimmy Carter’s inaugural in 1977, brought the crowd to their feet with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” for Clinton’s inaugural festivities. Wrapped in a fur cape and perched on a stool, Franklin was at her regal best, mixing her soul smolder with operatic power during the performance, accompanied by a gospel choir and full orchestra.
Singing “Natural Woman” on Murphy Brown (1991)
In a rare prime time sitcom cameo, Franklin shared a piano bench with Candice Bergen’s Brown for an intimate run through “Natural Woman.” The bit even included a great wink-wink joke when Bergen tried to jump in on the chorus and Franklin stopped to warn her, “Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not Martha and you ain’t no Vandella. I’m a solo act.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction (1987)
“You’re in, baby!” That’s how Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards inducted Franklin into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the first female member of the club — before the Stones, or the Beatles, for the record. Though she was unable attend the ceremony, Richards helped do the honors along with her label boss Clive Davis and brother Cecil Franklin. Davis read a note from Franklin: “I am highly honored to be held in such high esteem along with my peers and with my old friends. To be the first woman inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a historical moment an indeed a milestone in my career.”
The Blues Brothers (1980)
In her film debut, Franklin killed it as a waitress who just happens to be an unbelievable singer as well, but who is not about her man Matt going back out on the road with those degenerate Blues brothers. “The Blues Brothers? Shit! They still owe you money fool,” she snarls, also warning Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) not to blaspheme the Lord with their talk of being on a “mission from God.” The scene, of course, then breaks into a high-spirited run through Franklin’s iconic “Think,” one of the musical high points of a film full of them.
Martin Luther King Jr. funeral (1968)
With the nation bereft, Franklin did what she did best: She poured her soul and spirit into a searing rendition of the hymn “Precious Lord” at the funeral of the civil rights icon.