'The Queen Next Door' shows another side to Aretha Franklin
When it came to photographing the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Detroit photojournalist Linda Solomon knew the drill: When she called, you answered.
So when Franklin called Solomon in July of 1986 to let her know she'd be filming a music video for "Jumpin' Jack Flash'" at Detroit's United Sound Systems studios with the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and invited Solomon to photograph it, there was no hesitation. Of course she would be there.
When Solomon arrived, she found the Queen of Soul with "purple punk spiked hair" and wearing a tiger-striped knee-length jumpsuit, metallic gold coat, and mannequin sunglasses. She had picked out the outfit herself.
"She was very elegant, very conservative, and all of sudden, she changed for this music video," remembers Solomon, who lives in Oakland County. "I got there and she walked out of that limo and she has this big smile on her face...She was having fun."
The "Jumpin' Jack Flash" video was one of many times Solomon photographed the Queen of Soul over the last three decades. Now, she has combined many of those candid images, some never seen before, for her new book, "The Queen Next Door: Aretha Franklin, An Intimate Portrait" (Wayne State Press, $34.99). It hits shelves Oct. 14.
The 214-page page book shows another side of the Queen of Soul and how deeply devoted she was to family -- and to Detroit.
"Detroit was her soul and heart," said Solomon.
Broken down by year, "The Queen Next Door" focuses heavily on one of the high points of Franklin's career, the 1980s. Franklin moved back to Detroit in 1982 and for much of that decade, producers and celebrities had to come to her in Michigan because she had a fear of flying.
Solomon's images, all taken with film because there wasn't digital photography at the time, show how much Franklin loved to entertain, adored fashion, had a sense of humor, and above all, treasured family. Her siblings, children and other relatives are featured in images throughout the book. After her death, the family created a fund for cancer research in her name.
"Her family was everything to her," said Solomon.
Solomon says she believes she had such an amazing access to Franklin -- photographing her famous Christmas parties, birthday celebrations, and her son's graduation party from Michigan State University (for which Franklin invited some of MSU's cheer team to perform) -- because she always respected the superstar's privacy and never took it for granted.
"I tried to be very sensitive," said Solomon. "...She was extremely private. I always respected the fact that she trusted me."
Solomon met Franklin in 1983 during an appearance on the Detroit daytime talk show, "Kelly & Company." Solomon was writing a features column for The Detroit News at the time and when she learned Franklin was to appear on the show, she called a producer to ask if she could write about Franklin's performance.
At that first meeting, Solomon shot just three images and asked for Franklin's permission before she took anything. One of the images ran in the newspaper. Shortly afterward, one of Franklin's assistants called Solomon and invited her to a reception the singer was attending at Detroit's Manoogian mansion, where she planned to announce a benefit she was planning for her father's medical fund. Her father had been in a coma since 1979 after he was shot during an attempted robbery.
Solomon attended the gathering and a friendship was born.
"I felt so lucky to be included," writes Solomon in the introduction to her book. "This was the beginning of my friendship with Aretha."
Many of the pictures in the book show Franklin with her nails always impeccably done, makeup on and in a range of fashionable outfits. Solomon said Franklin loved fashion and was ahead of her time when it came to what she wore.
Some of the most unique images in the book -- which Solomon says was written and designed to resemble a photo album and even includes images of some of Franklin's elaborate party invitations -- were taken during a masquerade ball Franklin hosted in 1988. She dressed as Queen Nefertiti, her favorite historical figure of whom she had a sculpture in her living room. An image of Franklin as Queen Nefertiti is on the book's cover.
"She planned all her own parties," said Solomon. "She even addressed her own invitations and she always used a metallic pen."
The title, meanwhile, was inspired by Franklin's own words: "I am the lady next door when I am not on stage."
And in many ways, Solomon says, she was: Franklin often shopped on her own at her local Kroger, loved soap operas (a picture in "The Queen Next Door" shows her meeting soap legend Susan Lucci of "All My Children") and eating at Big Boy. She often carried her own camera, too.
Solomon -- who saw Franklin for one of the last times when Solomon's sister, Jill Rappaport, hosted a party for Franklin and her family in the Hamptons in August of 2007 -- said she never considered writing a book about her experiences photographing Franklin until after the singer's death in August of 2018 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Radio host Tom Joyner suggested it.
"I never planned this," said Solomon, who also runs a program called Pictures of Hope that connects children in shelters across the country with cameras. "I wanted her to live forever."
To celebrate the book's publication, Solomon says several events are planned, including a panel discussion on Oct. 27 at the Detroit Institute of Arts that will include some of Franklin's relatives and loved ones who knew her best. Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard and former Mayor Dennis Archer will also be included.
But Solomon has even bigger dreams. One day, she says, she'd love to create an exhibit in honor of Franklin that would be all about one of the Queen of Soul's biggest hits, "Respect." It would incorporate how Detroit schoolchildren define respect and involve creating massive letters of the word “respect,” each imprinted with those definitions.
"People could come to Detroit and see what respect means," she said.
'The Queen Next Door' events
- Book signing 2-4 p.m. Oct. 19 at Art Loft, 4160 Cass Ave. in Detroit
- National Book Launch with panel discussion 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Panelists will include former Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard, former Mayor of Detroit Dennis Archer, Aretha’s nieces Sabrina Vonne Owens and Cristal Franklin, as well as Aretha’s cousin and backup vocalist Brenda Corbett and sister-in-law Earline Franklin. The event is free and open to the public, though reservations are preferred because space is limited. Go to www.dia.org/events/national-book-launch-queen-next-door-linda-solomon
- "The Queen Next Door" book signing and celebration party 6-9 p.m. Nov. 6 at Saks Fifth Avenue, 2901 Big Beaver in Troy; the free event will include a fashion show and music tribute to Franklin.