By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4)– Singers and soul music lovers shared memories and highlight the impact of Aretha Franklin Thursday hours after learning the “Queen of Soul” died at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.

“Someone from my dreams was now singing on the radio,” said Hazel Miller, 65, a singer based in Colorado for decades.

She idolized Franklin from a young age and has been a fan of hers for more than 50 years, “She was it for me, she was my touchstone.”

Hazel Miller (credit: CBS)

Miller says she remembers hearing Franklin’s name on the radio for the first time, shortly after her voice. It only fueled the passion she already had for a career in singing.

“When they said her name, ‘Aretha Franklin’? What a great name,” she remembered. “I knew in the 3rd Grade I wanted to sing.”

Aretha Franklin (credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Franklin’s ability to cross multiple genres like gospel, blues, R&B, and jazz stood out to Miller. She felt that no other woman was singing like Franklin at the time. When the singer won the Grammy for “Respect,” she was watching on TV and cheering from home.

By 1976, Miller was booking gigs herself as a singer. While performing in Nashville she heard that Franklin was just two streets away at another venue. Even for a moment, she felt that hearing her inspiration in person was so much more powerful than any recording.

Hazel Miller (credit: Hazel Miller)

“We got to see the back of her on stage, she was rocking, she was rocking,” Miller said. “We looked at each other and said, Oh my god, we just saw Aretha Franklin.”

In her passing, Miller says it will be difficult to accept that there will not be any new material from the Queen of Soul. But she thinks the singer will get to return to her roots in the church. It is her time on the piano and in gospel music that Miller believes helped make Franklin the superstar and one-of-kind talent she became in her later years.

President Barack Obama fist bumps with singer Aretha Franklin at the Justice Department February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. (credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“That heavenly choir will be unbelievable from now on,” she said.

Miller says that Franklin sang with an excitement she did not hear in other singers and she used that style as a model for her career.

Other singers from Colorado also wanted to pay tribute to Franklin. Dianne Reeves was inducted to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame last year. She posted on Twitter to honor the soul singer.

A local soul music club told CBS4 the group often played Franklin’s records and would pay tribute to her at their next monthly gathering in September.

“I don’t think she ever sang any of her songs the same way twice,” Miller added. “She changed everything for every female vocalist that came after her, she changed the game.”

CBS4’s Shawn Chitnis interviews Hazel Miller (credit: CBS)

Franklin transcended race and gender because she was the one so many others wanted to imitate and never sang a song the same way twice, according to Miller. Most of all, she proved to the current singer that there was a way to perform songs the way she believed they were meant to be heard.

“She’s the best of the best,” said Miller. “She gave me the courage to sing what was in my heart.”

Singer Aretha Franklin (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Miller would get the chance to see Franklin sing one more time briefly while on the road to one of her own bookings across the country. She never met her personally but says she will miss the singer terribly but would want her to know that she loves her dearly.

“She’ll never be past tense for me because I hear her in my head every time I open my mouth and make a living,” said Miller. “In my head, she is always performing.”

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.


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