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The Queen of Soul pursued her love of opera until the very end

Aretha Franklin is embraced by her opera coach of more than 20 years, Mary Callaghan Lynch.
Courtesy of Mary Callaghan Lynch
Mary Callaghan Lynch coached Aretha Franklin in opera singer for more than 20 years.

The world lost the “Queen of Soul” this morning. Aretha Franklin, 76, passed away from pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit.

Franklin's voice helped create hits like “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” She was the first woman ever inducted into the national Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

While she is most well-known for her gospel and soul recordings, Franklin’s voice and talent also extended to opera.

Detroit soprano Mary Callaghan Lynch was Franklin’s opera coach of more than two decades. She's also  the founder and director of the Motor City Lyric Opera. Callaghan Lynch joined Stateside to reflect on 20 years of working with the legendary musician. 

In 1998, Callaghan Lynch got word that Franklin wanted to learn a tenor aria for an upcoming New York City gathering. The singer called Callaghan Lynch to help get her ready. Not long after, Franklin would perform the same aria – Puccini’s famous “Nessum Dorma” – at the 1998 Grammy Awards. 


Callaghan Lynch said Franklin brought her “massive soul” to everything she sang, including opera. The soul singer's embrace of the art form ultimately brought opera “to people that maybe would never even heard an aria.”

The musical icon also supported outreach programs, like the Motor City Lyric Opera’s music-on-wheels program, that brought the classical music tradition to local Detroit youth.

Just three weeks ago, Callaghan Lynch received a call from Franklin, who said she was ready to learn a new aria. That call, Callaghan Lynch said, reflected the "tenacity, will to learn,  and love for the music" that defines the singer's  powerful legacy. 

Listen above to learn more about what it was like to have the “Queen of Soul” as a music student, Franklin's passion for Italian and German opera, and that breathtaking 1998 Grammy performance.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Gabrielle Horton.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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