Her career was derailed by the onset of the disco era in the '70s and then by the shooting of her father in an attempted robbery in 1979. He spent five years in a coma before dying.
A cameo in "The Blues Brothers" movie in 1980 got her back on track, and the '80s were dotted with feisty, if relatively insubstantial, hits such as "Freeway of Love" and "Who's Zoomin' Who" and a typically commanding return to the gospel arena, the 1987 album "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism."
Back in the spotlight, she took her "Queen of Soul" brand to bombastic extremes, the diva years were in full bloom.
She appeared onstage in outrageous feathered outfits and tutus, practicing her ballet moves with a knowing grin.
But she remained capable of summoning greatness. In 1998 she released one of her best latter-day albums, "A Rose Is Still a Rose," and appeared on the nationally televised Grammy Awards as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti. She sang "Nessun Dorma," an aria from Puccini's "Turandot," and won over a new audience stunned by her operatic derring-do.
Later that year, she smoked a handful of would-be successors (including Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Gloria Estefan) in the "VH1 Divas Live" TV special. The New York Times raved that she was in a class by herself: "Aretha Franklin has created what can only be called gospel bel canto."
She knew how to make a statement, and not just with her voice. She made waves with the bow hat she wore to Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in January 2009.
The hat is now in the Smithsonian Institution. But even more stunning was her performance of "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)," with Franklin giving herself over to the moment, bearing witness to the arrival of the first African-American president in her country's history.
"Let it ring, let it ring, let it ring," she urged, testifying to her community and her country as if she were still singing hosannas at her father's church.