Aretha Franklin dead: The sweet story behind her iconic George Michael duet

Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin died on Thursday, aged 76, her family announced in a statement.

According to the statement, the cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. The announcement of her passing comes two days after rumours emerged the singer was “seriously ill” and surrounded by her loved ones.

The Queen of Soul last appeared on stage at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 25th anniversary gala in November, still looking and sounding stunning. That performance was to be her last performance before she officially retired from a music career that spanned more than 50 years.

Aretha Franklin performs at the Festival of Families as Pope Francis looks on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Carl Court/Getty)

Among her memorable performances, one that stands out is her duet with George Michael for the 1987 smash hit “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”

The song, which was being shared on Twitter on Thursday following news of Franklin’s death, would earn the Queen of Soul her last No.1 hit single in both UK and US, and it won Michael his first Grammy, enshrining his status as a soul superstar.

The collaboration was the brainchild of Franklin’s producer and label boss Clive Davis. At that time, Michael had only released two singles after leaving Wham! and, in subsequent interviews, he would cite the duet with Franklin, whom he deeply admired, as a career highlight.

“I was nervous,” he recalled in his biography Bare. “I knew that Aretha would get the melody and then take it all over the place, which sounds great, but the thing also needed tying down … I just tried to stay in character, keep it simple. It was very understated in comparison to what she did.”

US President Barack Obama fist bumps with singer Aretha Franklin on February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC (Mark Wilson/Getty)

“We did end up doing the chorus together, which was phenomenal—she wanted to do it that way. I’m standing there just freaking out. I’m on the other side of the mic from Aretha Franklin and she’s treating me like an equal—obviously I’m not, but she was treating me with such respect,” Michael recalled in a 2014 radio interview.

Little did he know, Franklin was already a fan.

“The first time I heard George was with Wham! and I liked it then. He had a very unique sound, very different from anything that was out there. When Clive [Davis] suggested we get together for ‘I Knew You Were Waiting,’ I was all ready,” she told Entertainment Weekly following George Michael’s death in December 2016.

In the same 2014 interview, Michael shared an important insight into Franklin’s recording habits. She had brought ribs with her in the studio and, after eating a rack, she was able to throw the bones in a bin on the other side of the room. “She could hit that bucket in the corner like that! It was fantastic!” Michael recalled.

Franklin, who described the hit duet as a song that “does not grow old,” also shared fond memories of the two working together on the set of their music video.

“We had a super time. He was calling most of the shots: how he wanted this, how he wanted that. My older sister, Erma, just fell for him right away,” she told EW.