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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 12:24 GMT
Singer Franklin awarded US medal
Aretha Franklin receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush
Franklin began as a gospel singer before becoming a global star
Soul legend Aretha Franklin has been awarded America's highest civilian honour by President George W Bush.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for achievement in the arts, in a White House ceremony that also honoured boxer Muhammad Ali and others.

"Generations of Americans have stood in wonder at the style and voice of Aretha Franklin," said President Bush.

The 63-year-old singer had global success with songs such as Respect and Think, winning 17 Grammy Awards.

'World's best singer'

President Bush said: "The 'Queen of Soul' has been a singer all her life, thanks to the early encouragement of her mother, Barbara, and her father, the Reverend CL Franklin.

"They raised their daughter to be a woman of achievement, deep character and a loving heart. "

Mr Bush said an unnamed record company executive told him: "Aretha is still the best singer in the world, bar none. She finds meanings in lyrics that the composers didn't even know they had."

Franklin made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14.

In the late 1960s she became one of the biggest international stars in pop music, achieving 10 Top 10 hits in the US in an 18-month span.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus and internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn were also among those honoured on Wednesday.

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