When Aretha Franklin died in 2018, her life was feted with an eight-hour funeral service, but the real tribute began three decades earlier in 1982.
Franklin returned to Detroit after spending time in the plastic-fantastic Los Angeles. Franklin returned home to care for her ailing father The Rev. C.L. Franklin, a pastor and civil rights activist, who had been shot during a robbery.
A Detroit News writer and photographer, 29-year-old Linda Solomon, was there to record Aretha’s triumphant return to her home town on film.
Keith Richards came to Detroit, as did Ron Wood and Whoopi Goldberg, along with scores of others including the grandfather of soul, James Brown. The bottom line was, if you wanted to record something with Aretha you had to come to Detroit. Or like Dick Clark did in 1986 for the American Music Awards, you beamed her in on satellite as she sat on a velvet couch at her home.
Solomon was the only photographer-journalist who had access to Franklin, and now she lets us in on that period with her sumptuous 155 natural-light photographs in her new book “The Queen Next Door: Aretha Franklin, an Intimate Portrait.”
Because of her unparalleled access to the music diva, Solomon was able to capture images of Franklin at her home, at her unrivaled private parties and in quiet moments when Franklin was just lounging around at home.
In her introduction, Solomon writes how some of her photography mirrors Franklin’s lyrics, including “the moment I wake up, before I put on my make up.”
Solomon’s favorite photograph of Aretha lights up the book’s cover showing Franklin peering out of a window dressed as Queen Nefertiti for her masquerade ball in 1988. A minimalist, Solomon said she only shot two frames to get the photo.
Fans of Franklin will adore Solomon’s photos taken during the 1986 filming of an Amoco commercial where Franklin is seen at a gas station filling up her pink Cadillac while “Freeway of Love” plays in the background. One photograph shows Franklin peering at the car’s pink “RESPECT” vanity plate as a Manhattan night skyline shines in the distance. Just for the record, the TV ad was shot in Troy, Michigan.
“I wondered what she was thinking, and I believe I am the only one with photos of that event,” Solomon said.
The photographer said in today’s world, where celebrity access is both controlled and at the same time a free-for-all with Instagram and Twitter, “You couldn’t do this book.”
The photographs show both sides of Franklin, with her signature furs, elaborate costuming at private parties, performing in local venues and at home puffing on a cigarette.
Solomon first connected with Franklin when working as a reporter for the Detroit News. The reporter stopped by WXYZ studios where the singer was filming an interview for the Kelly & Company talk show.
Solomon described how she took only a few photographs of Franklin that first time, a technique she continued to use when documenting the star.
A single photo of a bespectacled Franklin appeared in Solomon’s weekly column in the Detroit News “Star Tracks,” and the article mentioned an upcoming benefit Franklin was hosting for her father.
Shortly after, Solomon writes in her book, “An assistant called and invited me to attend a private reception at the Manoogian Mansion (the Mayor’s residence),” she wrote. “That was the beginning of our relationship.”
Over time, as Solomon describes in her comments, Franklin began to call her directly and “we would chat and have girl talk.”
Solomon writes she saved “many” voice mail recordings of Franklin “just to be able to hear that incredible sweet voice whenever I wanted.”
From Solomon’s photographs, it’s clear that Franklin either went big or not at all when it came to throwing parties. For her son Teddy’s graduation from Michigan State University in 1986, she booked the MSU cheer team for an appearance which Solomon recorded on film.
Also included in the book are photographs of invitations Franklin sent for birthday parties and galas she hosted. Franklin personalized them and hand-wrote driving instructions to her home.
Solomon closes the book with a playful photograph of Aretha Franklin turning a camera on her.
Photographs you will not see in Solomon’s book are those she shot of the private family gathering at the St. Regis Hotel in Detroit, which occurred just prior to the funeral for the Queen of Soul.