In 1980, Franklin reprised “Think” in the Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi musical comedy vehicle “The Blues Brothers,” in which Ray Charles and James Brown also took on-screen roles.” That year, she signed a contract with Clive Davis’ Arista, where she would spend the next 23 years.
Though she dutifully attempted to adapt to latter-day R&B styles, Franklin scored just a handful of pop hits at Arista: the Narada Michael Walden-produced “Freeway of Love” (No. 3, 1985), “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” (No. 7, 1985) and the George Michael duet “I Know You Were Waiting (For Me),” which became her final No. 1 pop single in 1987.
“Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” a memorable duet with Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox, reached the top 20 in ’85. Some will fondly recall her 1986 remake of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” cut for a Whoopi Goldberg picture with Keith Richards producing and playing guitar.
The mid ’80s were marked by personal unhappiness and tragedy. Franklin’s second marriage, to actor Glynn Turman, dissolved in 1984. (She had divorced first husband Ted White, who also served as her manager, in 1969 after marrying him at 19.) The same year, her father died: C.L. Franklin had spent five years in a coma after being shot during a robbery in Detroit.
Years of indifferent releases on Arista culminated with the ironically titled label swan song “So Damn Happy” in 2003. The seasonal “This Christmas, Aretha” was issued through the Borders chain in 2008.
Despite an ongoing struggle with her weight and an intense fear of flying, Franklin continued to perform live. In January 2009, she sang at President Obama’s inaugural ceremony. Her health crisis in late 2010 forced her to cancel six months of concert dates.
After recovering from surgery for cancer, Franklin resumed touring (intermittently, and some times discontinuously due to illness) and issued records again, on her own Aretha’s imprint. “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love” (2011) compiled tracks cut during sessions in 2006, and made little impression on the charts.
However, 2014’s “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” became the singer’s most popular album in nearly 30 years. The collection, which offered her interpretations of earlier hits by Etta James, Barbra Streisand, Alicia Keys, Dinah Washington and others, matched the peaks of her 1985 “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” long player, topping out at No. 13 pop and No. 3 R&B.
She last performed in November at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala in New York. 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.
She is survived by four sons: Clarence and Edward Franklin, Ted White Jr. (a regular member of her touring band) and Kecalf Cunningham.