By Erick Johnson and Clarence Waldron, Chicago Crusader
She became a single Black mother at 12 and overcame tragedy as a Queen who gained worldwide respect with an illustrious career that spanned six decades.
Though she gained fame and fortune, throughout her life Aretha Franklin kept it real and put her enemies in check. She was a natural woman who stayed Black to her last breath.
Now, fans across the globe are remembering the undisputed Queen of Soul, who died Aug. 16 at her home in Detroit.
Her majesty’s death touched off two weeks of mourning that will culminate with a two-day public viewing at Detroit’s historic Charles Wright Museum on Aug. 28-29 and another viewing at Franklin’s Bethel Baptist Church.
On Aug. 31, Franklin’s private funeral will be held at the Greater Grace Temple, where many of Hollywood’s and Black America’s biggest stars and dignitaries are preparing to give Franklin a homegoing service fit for a queen. She will be interred in a mausoleum at Detroit’s famed Woodlawn Cemetery, the final resting place of her father, brother, nephew and two sisters.
Plans are being made for a special musical tribute to Franklin on Aug. 30, but those plans were not completed and announced as of Crusader press time Wednesday.
Some 307 miles away in Chicago, Franklin’s death is being felt as tributes continue to pour in for a Queen whose coronation occurred on the South Side of Chicago, where she had business and personal relationships with at least 26 Black Chicago singers, promoters, pastors and politicians in her lifetime.
She loved Lou Rawls, admired jazz singer Dinah Washington and was mentored by gospel titans Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker and the Staple Singers. She recorded her album, “Sparkle,” with Curtis Mayfield, whose office was located on 85th & Stony Island back in the day. Another Chicago great, Oscar Brown, Jr., recorded with the Queen of Soul.
Franklin sang at the presidential inauguration of Chicago’s Barack Obama in 2008. She met and adored crooner Sam Cooke, who encouraged her to record secular music and would write songs for Franklin’s groundbreaking album, “Never Loved a Man the Way that I Loved You.”
It was the start of Aretha’s fond and close relationship with Chicago that would help shape her storied career that included 18 Grammy Awards and nearly 50 albums that produced 52 Top Ten hits and 20 No. 1 singles on the R&B charts.
“Respect” and the “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Call Me,” and “Think” were among her biggest hits. With 75 million records sold worldwide, Franklin became the first woman Black or white to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Before she died, Franklin insisted that Chicago’s Jennifer Hudson play her character in a biopic film being planned about the Queen of Soul.
Aretha Franklin, aka “Auntie Ree,” loved Chicago and Chicago loved her. During visits to Chicago, she crisscrossed the city to get her favorite barbeque ribs, fried chicken and seafood. Radio stations in Chicago played Franklin songs following her death. Radio station V103 played an endless marathon of Franklin’s hits and played a diverse mix of Franklin’s gospel and soul music during a five-hour tribute on Aug. 19.
Operation Rainbow PUSH will hold a special tribute to Franklin on Aug. 25th at its headquarters in Hyde Park at 9:30 a.m.
“There will never be another Queen,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. who knew and spent much time with Franklin and her family throughout her life. “My heart is heavy and in so much pain. A lot of music left earth today. The heavens rejoice. Aretha, my sister beloved and friend with the four-octave range and inimitable sound, has gone even higher. She had been battling a debilitating illness over the last few years. She fought as gallantly as she sang, with faith, power and dignity.”
NAACP chairman Leon W. Russell said, “No one can discuss the Civil Rights movement nor music without paying respect to the Queen of Soul. We’ll miss her dearly.” Russell went on to say, “Franklin not only revolutionized the sound of music during her career, she contributed to the changing of our society from a segregated one to one where all people, men and women were equal.”
The Black Indiana Caucus released a statement in response to Franklin’s death.
“The passing of Aretha Franklin is a loss to the country. Yes, Aretha was the Queen of Soul, but she was so much more. She was a champion for equality, civil rights and the conscience of a nation struggling to find its soul.”
It was at Chicago’s Regal Theater that WVON disc jockey Pervis Spann crowned Aretha the Queen of Soul. In her book, “Aretha: From These Roots,” she wrote, “He placed a beautifully bejeweled crown on my head, and I still cherish the memory of my silver-sequined gown. The only queens I had known of were Dinah Washington and Elizabeth I and II. To be considered worthy of the same title held by Dinah was an honor of the highest order.”
Franklin further recalled the experience in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 2017.
“I was floored,” she said. “It was the last thing I expected when he (Spann) walked out with that crown and actually put it on my head.”
Aretha enjoyed performing in Chicago. She gave eight concerts at Ravinia Music Festival from 2003 to 2017. Her last Chicago performance was at Ravinia during the Labor Day holiday.
Nick Pullia, Ravinia spokesman, said, “This isn’t the first time Aretha had us all crying. This once-in-ten lifetime talent took us to church over the radio in very turbulent times and in joyous times. She was an absolute joy to know, and in a way, we all knew her. That’s what makes it especially hard when someone who was so much a part of our social fabric leaves us, and we have no personal way of saying good-bye.”
He adds, “Put the records on. Let the tears flow. And pay her the respect that both the song and her life demanded.”
Shortly before she died, Franklin was making plans to come to Chicago to shop for back-to-school clothes for her grandchildren. During the Christmas holiday, she loved shopping at Tiffany’s on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Whenever in Chicago, Aretha and her entourage would dine at the exclusive RL Restaurant on Chicago Avenue off North Michigan Avenue where her choices were calf’s liver and Dover sole. She preferred to stay at the Drake, one of Chicago’s luxury hotels. While a guest there, she would often walk down Michigan Avenue for lunch or dinner at RL.
When in town, Aretha would contact Mother Josephine Wade, founder of Captain’s Hard Time Dining (on East 79th Street), and ask her to prepare her famous gumbo and deliver it downtown to the hotel.
In 1996, she thrilled fans at a free Grant Park concert. She hosted a pre-Grant Park Performance and Summer’s Eve reception at the Chicago Hilton Hotel.
Franklin and Mavis Staples met while teenagers, on the gospel circuit in 1960. Mavis told Billboard, “She was a regular person who just happened to be talented.”
Carmen Lemons, who inherited the Lem’s business after her father died several years ago said, “We knew that fact was going to eventually come out. It was an honor to have her as customer.”