The Queen of Soul delighted those in attendance at the Elton John AIDS Foundation 25th anniversary benefit held at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine last November when she performed Dionne Warwick’s 1967 classic “I Say a Little Prayer.” (The song was also featured on Franklin’s 1968 album Aretha Now.)
On Thursday, Franklin’s longtime publicist confirmed to PEOPLE that the icon died of advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. She was 76.
Elton John mourned Franklin’s passing, thanking her for the performance at his benefit.
“I was fortunate enough to spend time with her and witness her last performance,” the singer, 71, wrote on Instagram and Twitter.
“She was obviously unwell, and I wasn’t sure she could perform. But Aretha did and she raised the roof. She sang and played magnificently, and we all wept. We were witnessing the greatest soul artist of all time. I adored her and worshipped her talent. God bless her,” he said.
John’s husband David Furnish also recalled Franklin’s last performance.
“I went to greet her before the show and were taken aback at how thin and frail she appeared,” he shared on Instagram.
“She looked at Elton with the sweetest smile and said, ‘I didn’t want to let you down.’ Such class. The performance she generously gave everyone was overwhelmingly moving,” Furnish continued. “There she was channeling the spirit of GOD in that beautiful church surrounded by the most dazzling backdrop of candles. Everyone in that room knew they were witnessing something truly special that night. She played and sang magnificently.”
He added, “How fitting that her final performance was in that beautiful church. How fitting that her final way of saying goodbye was by helping others and saving lives.”
“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. 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 family said in a statement.
“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.”
PEOPLE reported on Monday that Franklin was in the midst of a health crisis, with a friend of the artist explaining that the singer has “been ill for a long time” and her loved ones had been warned her “death is imminent.”