MLK Task Force mourns loss of Aretha Franklin

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published August 29, 2018

 Aretha Franklin performs onstage at the 2015 MLK Peace Walk and Celebration inside the Southfield Pavilion.

Aretha Franklin performs onstage at the 2015 MLK Peace Walk and Celebration inside the Southfield Pavilion.

File photo by Donna Agusti

SOUTHFIELD — Called a “drum major for justice,” the Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force is mourning the loss of soul singer Aretha Franklin. 

Franklin died Aug. 16 at her home in Detroit after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76. 

Known as the Queen of Soul, Franklin was a singer, songwriter and pianist who began her career as a child, singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Franklin’s father, C.L. Franklin, was the minister of the church. 

In 1960, at age 18, Franklin recorded her first album for Columbia Records. In 1966, Franklin achieved success with Atlantic Records with such hits as “Respect” and “Chain of Fools.”

By the end of the 1960s, Franklin had earned her nickname as the Queen of Soul. 

According to task force founder Barbara Talley, Franklin was instrumental in the civil rights movement. 

Franklin is known for her longtime support of the civil rights movement. Her 1967 hit “Respect” became the anthem for the movement, according to Judge Shelia Johnson. 

The MLK Task Force, made up of over 200 members, is a group dedicated to not only keeping Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of peace, freedom and equality alive, but also to organizing a celebration in his honor each January at the Southfield Pavilion. 

Throughout her life, Franklin was involved in civil rights and women’s rights. She raised money for civil rights groups and performed at benefits and protests. In 2009, she performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. 

“Civil rights people would stay at their home during (the civil rights movement), and she got to personally know them and developed a relationship with them. She knew MLK and her father marched with MLK,” Johnson said. “Aretha was getting to be well-known at that time, nationally and locally, and she was known to perform and actually fund some of the activities of the civil rights movement.”

Johnson said she and Franklin were personal friends.

“She was a community activist; she cared about the people in her community and she cared about civil rights,” Johnson said. “She was very, very informed on current affairs. We used to talk a lot about political affairs and different things going on in the world. She really cared about people. She’s going to be thoroughly missed.”

In 2015, Franklin performed in Southfield at the 30th MLK Peace Walk and Celebration inside the Southfield Pavilion. She sang a soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Johnson said all the task force had to do was provide the right kind of piano for Franklin to perform on. 

“We didn’t have to pay her anything. We just had to get her a piano, and it was as simple as that,” Johnson said. “When you’re a star like that and you’re coming into a public venue, you’re likely to get stopped by people, and she was so gracious and we were just so proud and happy to have her there.”

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence expressed her sadness at the loss of her friend. 

“Aretha Franklin was soul personified, and she gave us the gift of her voice, her truth and her unapologetic passion to demand compassion, love and R-E-S-P-E-C-T for women everywhere,” Lawrence, the former Southfield mayor, said in a written statement. “An iconic entertainer, powerful civil rights leader and a beautiful spirit who I am privileged to call (a) friend. She will be dearly missed, but never forgotten.” 

A visitation of Franklin’s body will take place noon-3 p.m. Aug. 30 at New Bethel Baptist Church, 8430 Linwood St. in Detroit. 

From 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 30, a tribute concert will be held in Franklin’s honor at Chene Park in Detroit. Tickets for the concert were reportedly sold out in minutes. 

At 10 a.m. Aug. 31, Franklin’s funeral service will take place at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 W. Seven Mile Road in Detroit. The funeral service will include Stevie Wonder, Faith Hill, and Jennifer Hudson. Former President Bill Clinton, Smokey Robinson and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are slated to speak.