A dress, portrait painting and album covers are among the items on display in the Detroit Historical Museum’s tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

A dress, portrait painting and album covers are among the items on display in the Detroit Historical Museum’s tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

Photo provided by the Detroit Historical Museum

Explore Aretha Franklin’s music, social impact at Detroit Historical Museum

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published December 11, 2018

DETROIT — The legacy of Detroit’s Queen of Soul lives on in the heart of the city.

Until spring 2019, the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown is celebrating the life and music of Aretha Franklin in a special exhibition inside the museum’s Kid Rock Music Lab.

Visitors will find a mixture of memorabilia and information in the small but substantial exhibition. Thanks to a loan from Eastpointe’s Melodies and Memories, the museum is able to display “almost a full collection” of Franklin’s dozens of albums, said Sarah Murphy, marketing and public relations manager for the museum.

“She had so many (albums), we couldn’t fit them all on the wall,” explained Tracy Irwin, chief exhibitions and enrichment officer for the Detroit Historical Museum.

The collection includes an early recording of Franklin’s iconic song, “Respect,” that doesn’t feature “Sock it to me.”

“It tends to be a fairly valuable record because there’s not that many of them,” Irwin said.

Another special album is Franklin’s first recording, “I Will Trust in the Lord, Vols. 1 and 2,” which she made in 1956 with her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, when she was just 14.

Visitors also will see a glittery black dress that Franklin wore during the 1980s, one of her capes from the 1970s, magazines, photos and other artifacts.

“We tried to span her evolution,” Irwin said.

While Franklin is best known for her incredible voice and unforgettable songs, Irwin said she was also a civil rights and feminist icon who fought for equality.

“She (was) really the right person to do it,” Irwin said of Franklin, who used her popularity and position to endorse causes close to her heart. “Her voice would speak louder than others.”

Visitors will find out why and when Franklin stopped flying — which largely limited her touring to the continental United States — as well as the broad range of music she recorded, including R&B, gospel, pop and jazz.

“She did them all well,” Irwin said. “And she had so many different collaborations with other artists.”

Many other Detroit musical greats moved to places like Los Angeles or New York, but Franklin spent most of her life living in metro Detroit, with homes in the city itself and in Bloomfield Township.

“She could have chosen to live anywhere, and she chose to be a Detroiter and to be a recognizable presence in her community, which is great,” Irwin said.

When she performed what turned out to be her last full concert in June 2017 outside of Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit, Franklin created a set of handprints in cement for the Detroit Historical Museum’s Legends Plaza, a collection of handprints and signatures made by famous Detroiters that’s on permanent display outside the museum. Franklin’s handprints can be viewed indoors now as part of the special exhibition, but Murphy said that when the exhibition closes, Franklin’s handprints will be installed in Legends Plaza.

A large, vibrant acrylic portrait of Franklin by local artist Dave Santia — who Irwin said listens to music by his subject as he paints — catches visitors’ eyes as soon as they enter the exhibition.

“We’ve already received so much positive feedback” about the tribute display, said Irwin. It opened this fall.

Anyone who has additional Franklin memorabilia is welcome to donate it to the Detroit Historical Museum. Irwin said they might be able to add it to the display. For more information about donating materials, call Irwin at (313) 833-1405.

The nearby Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has an exhibition about Franklin as well, Irwin said.

Irwin said she hopes visitors learn more about Franklin’s impact on not only music, but also on the world around her.

“She meant a lot to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons,” Murphy said of Franklin, who died Aug. 16 at home at the age of 76. “Hopefully we honor a little bit of that.”

The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. Admission is free. For more information, call (313) 833-1805 or visit www.detroithistorical.org.