“Aretha was my dear friend who I will deeply miss,” Cissy Houston tells PEOPLE in a statement about the Queen of Soul, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 76 on Thursday morning.
“I have known Aretha for over 50 years, both professionally as her back up singer and then as a friend,” Cissy adds. “We have shared heartbreak, loss, as well as exaltation and great laughter and most importantly our mutual love of God.”
Continuing, she writes, “Although my heart is broken, my soul rejoices that I was able to watch God move through Aretha’s life. God bless you Re, I will always love you.”
Throughout the pair’s enduring public friendship, both women have navigated their fair share of ups and downs together.
After Franklin didn’t attend Whitney’s funeral in 2012, citing leg spasms, reports emerged that Cissy had barred the “Natural Woman” singer from attending following Franklin’s comments on Today that “parents have to really talk to their children before they leave home.”
However, in a statement made at the time, Franklin went on to share that she was speaking generally — and that NBC cut a line where she said, “This is no reflection on Cissy or Nippy’s upbringing.” She then slammed media reports of a rift between her and Cissy.
“Cissy Houston and I have been longtime friends for almost 50 years,” she said in a statement. “I have four invitations and parking passes that were sent to me for the funeral.”
She added: “Cissy does not need ridiculous speculation and neither do I — particularly at this time. Knowing Cissy as well as I do, I know Whitney left home right and properly. I was generalizing and it was a well-intended statement for any young adult coming into the music industry. I was not speaking of anyone specifically.”
Franklin got into a tiff with Houston’s cousin Dionne Warwick, accusing the fellow singer of making up a story that she was Whitney’s grandmother at the 2012 funeral.
“She blatantly lied on me … fully well knowing what she was doing,” Franklin told the Associated Press at the time.
The Queen of Soul’s family released a statement on Thursday announcing her death: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart,” her family said. “We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”
The statement continued, “We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”