Shock and concern have spread around the music world overnight following reports that soul singing great Aretha Franklin is “gravely ill”.
Franklin, 76, is reportedly surrounded by her family and close friends in Detroit. The family is asking for prayers and privacy.
A source who has known Franklin since the start of her career told The Telegraph that Franklin’s absence from the spotlight since the end of last year was “uncharacteristic”.
The news was broken by Roger Friedman, a friend of Franklin’s, on the entertainment website Showbiz411.
“Something’s been happening with her health,” a source told The Telegraph. “She’s missed several high profile public engagements in recent months, including the funeral of Dennis Edwards, who was one of her lovers. It’s uncharacteristic of her.”
Edwards, who was a member of The Temptations, inspired Franklin’s song Day Dreaming. In February, reports said she was unable to attend the memorial due illness but sent her condolences to be read to the family.
She then cancelled a show in March, scheduled on her 76th birthday, another in April and a festival performance in June on doctor’s orders. A statement on Franklin’s website said she “has been ordered not to perform in the coming months.”
“Aretha was working on an album with Stevie Wonder, and had a project on the go with Lionel Richie,” the source says. “By virtue of her not performing publicly since last year, she’s been unwell since then.”
Aretha Franklin receives an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at Harvard University in 2014
Franklin’s most recent performance was last November, for the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York, and she gave her last public performance a year ago in Philadelphia. A review described her: “Regardless of advancing years and medical setbacks, Franklin seemed largely undiminished in voice or spirit, even if her exclamations sometimes soared past the limits of her breath.”
Her performance in November came before rumours that Franklin was on her deathbed, sparked in part by drastic weight loss. The singer responded with an interview in Us Weekly, saying: “I’m doing well generally, all tests have come back good. I’ve lost a lot of weight due to side effects of medicine, it affects your weight.”
Journalist and friend of Franklin, Shaun Robinson, tweeted at the time: “I just spoken to one of Ms. Franklin’s family friends in my hometown Detroit. They spoke to Aretha moments ago and asked me to tell you please don’t believe this news that was trending. Have a good day.”
Aretha Franklin in the early Seventies
The singer, best known for hits such as Respect and I Say a Little Prayer, cancelled concerts in 2010 while recovering from a surgery that removed an unspecified tumour and, Franklin said, would “add 15 to 20 years to her life”.
However, illness has affected her performing career over the past decade, with shows cancelled in 2013. Franklin said in August of that year that she had undergone a “miraculous” recovery, but continued to drop out of shows. She has never divulged the details of her illness, but has spoken about a doctor “finding something in her body” that later disappeared.
Franklin’s representatives are yet to reply to The Telegraph’s request for comment.
A former chain smoker who suffered from bouts of alcoholism, Franklin has also spoken about her “ballooning” weight, and subsequent weight loss.
Franklin won 18 Grammy awards over the course of her career and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.