224 pp Wayne State University Press
Back in 1981 Douglas Bourgeois painted the colorful, but stern Aretha: Mysterious Lady Of Sorrows. The expression on his subject—known to millions worldwide as The Queen Of Soul—is as foreboding as the depicted thorns that bind her and chains around her piano keys. The piece’s title comes from a statement that Aretha Franklin’s ’60s producer Jerry Wexler used to describe her and has become embedded in the popular imagination. But like any great artist, Franklin contained multitudes and her music conveyed more than one emotion. So did her life. The sense of pure joy that came through her voice also tied in with how much fun she always liked to have, especially around family and friends. It is this playful, and charitable, side of Franklin that comes through Linda Solomon’s photographs that comprise The Queen Next Door: Aretha Franklin, An Intimate Portrait.
As Solomon relates in her book’s warm introduction, Franklin reached out to her in 1983 and she was at her side throughout the decade. The singer experienced considerable challenges during these years: On the positive side, she recaptured the wide public’s attention with her hit 1985 album Who’s Zoomin’ Who?. But she also lost her father, C.L. Franklin, in 1984 after a 1979 gunshot put him in a five-year coma. All of which made family and the comforts of her Detroit hometown that much more crucial for the soul superstar. Solomon was close enough to capture these moments: Like a warm eyes-closed kiss between Franklin and her son Teddy. Colorful photos include Franklin hosting a masquerade party as Queen Nefertiti with her sister Erma as a pirate. Other times, she’s simply beaming alongside such longtime musical colleagues as Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops and even sharing a laugh with James Brown.
Still, it’s photos of Franklin in performance that illuminate her artistry and exuberance along with some eye-popping gowns. One of these was a black velvet coat with a heavy rhinestone collar. She also looked quietly regal when singing with the Detroit Symphony. But one of the most revealing photos in The Queen Next Door is of Franklin listening to an album by herself. She quietly contemplates Sade’s Diamond Life, which leaves her many fans to wonder about a collaboration that might have been.