The current and former presidents are paying tribute to soul legend Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit. She was 76.
“For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. 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 — who performed at three presidential inaugurations — sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” at Obama’s in 2009. In 2015, her performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., moved Obama to tears. (He again fought back tears when Franklin sang “America, The Beautiful” during a ceremony for outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015.)
“Aretha may have passed on to a better place,” Obama added. “But the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. Michelle and I send our prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and all those moved by her song.”
“Watching Aretha Franklin perform at the White House, and on so many other occasions, made time stand still,” Michelle Obama tweeted. “@BarackObama and I are holding Aretha’s family in our hearts right now. She will forever be our Queen of Soul.”
President Trump offered his sympathies to Franklin’s family before a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday.
“I want to begin today by expressing my condolences to the family of a person I knew well, she worked for me on numerous occasions, Aretha Franklin, on her passing,” Trump said. “She’s brought joy to millions of lives and her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come. She was given a great gift from god: her voice. And she used it well. People loved Aretha. She was a special woman.”
At the White House in 2005, President George W. Bush presented Franklin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Aretha is still the best singer in the world, bar none,” Bush said at the ceremony, quoting an unnamed record executive. “She finds meanings in lyrics that the composers didn’t even know they had. She chills you, heats you, affects your soul. It’s exhilarating.”
Franklin herself teared up as Bush placed the medal around her neck.
In 1977, Franklin performed “God Bless America” a cappella at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. The Carter Presidential Library issued a statement mourning “the passing of the Queen of Soul.”
She also performed at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, where she sang “I Dreamed a Dream.” Earlier this week, amid reports Franklin was in hospice care, Clinton encouraged his Twitter followers to “lift her up by listening and sharing her songs.”
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