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Arts & Culture

MSU Professor Remembers Aretha Franklin As Friend & MegaStar

Carl Taylor, Aretha Franklin
WKAR File Photo, Facebook fan page of Aretha Franklin
MSU professor Carl Taylor (left), singer Aretha Franklin (right)

Michigan State University sociology professor Carl Taylor knew Franklin and her family as neighbors. 

Aretha Franklin, the undisputed "Queen of Soul" who sang with matchless style on such classics as "Think," ''I Say a Little Prayer" and her signature song, "Respect," and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer. Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn told The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit.

MSU sociology professor Carl Taylor shared some memories of his friend and neighbor with WKAR's Reginald Hardwick.

TAYLOR: I knew the Franklin family through my family. I had an uncle who was in the entertainment business. I learned a lot about Aretha and the family by visiting the Rev. Franklin's gorgeous home over on LaSalle Boulevard which is about a block, two blocks from their church over on Linwood.

HARDWICK: Dr. Taylor, do you remember the moment when you were like 'wow this young woman has something?'

TAYLOR: We always knew that Aretha was in a league of her own from the beginning. And she could sing like nobody else.


HARDWICK: What always occurred to me, Aretha Franklin was true to her identity. There are pictures of her with an Afro [hairstyle]. Why was that important to her?

TAYLOR: She was that diva for everybody, whether you were bourgeois or you were middle class or you were working class or were just a street person, she was our queen. And she behaved as such. She always had time for the little guy. She was very popular with the gay community and that was quite a tussle in the black church because of the tradition. She didn't let anyone decide for her. She was her own person.

HARDWICK: What's the difference between R&B and soul [music] and what did Aretha do?

TAYLOR: I think Aretha just dealt with music. That's what she proved when she took Pavarotti's place. She sang whatever. It was just music to her. [Editor's note: in 1998, Luciano Pavarotti was scheduled to sing "Nessun Dorma" during the Grammy Awards broadcast — but then bowed out due to illness just as the show was about to air live. Franklin stepped in and performed to rave reviews].

Aretha was great at musicianship. She was a great piano player. She read music. She was in tune and she knew how to bring the best out of the best musicians. I remember several years ago that she was practicing with some older musicians but the guys weren't hitting their chops well. She turned around and she laid into them. In essence, 'if you can't keep up and do what you need to do, then get off the stage.' And some of them were very offended. But she didn't care. She believed in giving her best. And I think that's where she transcended.

HARDWICK: What is something that people might not have known about Aretha?

TAYLOR: I think about how sensitive she was to those who were suffering and children. I know for a fact she was a big supporter of the Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy. She worked with that group of young, black ballerinas dancing modern dances. And those girls would be so inspired by just being in her presence.

HARDWICK: What was one of Aretha's songs you think that is understated that's one of your favorites?

TAYLOR: You go back and listen to 'Wholy Holy' by Marvin Gaye. She took that song and she made it gospel. 

Aretha was singing for everybody. And she was loving everybody. She wasn't ashamed of herself. She was that person for me that makes me take a step back, close my eyes and give thanks to the Creator.


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