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Aretha Franklin and The Salvation Army

“Being ‘the Queen’ is not all about singing. Being ‘a diva’ is not all about singing. Rather, they have much more to do with your service to people and to your community.”

—Aretha Franklin

August 16, 2018—Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” passed away at home in Detroit after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76. Franklin will forever be remembered as “the greatest singer of all time” (Salon).

Born in Tennessee, Franklin was also a generous and warmhearted philanthropist. She has donated her talent, time, and treasure to many causes, including The Salvation Army.

In 1997, Franklin performed at the “Reunion Weekend of Heroes,” a three–day event in Akron, Ohio, primarily sponsored and organized by The Salvation Army to honor Vietnam veterans for their sacrifice and service. However, a torrential downpour seriously affected attendance at the much anticipated Memorial Jam Concert.

Mark Cheplowitz, the special events producer, remembers, “it poured all day, every day, for three days straight. The Salvation Army didn’t have rain insurance at the time, so it lost a large investment on the weekend.”

When the legendary gospel soloist became aware of the potential financial shortfall, instead of accepting her cash–up–front fee, she opened her purse and wrote a check to the Army for $5,000.

“I get a little choked up describing that moment,” said Cheplowitz. “No one asked her to do this.”

Bruce Brinkerhoff of the Akron Citadel Corps, remarked, “She gave [her performance fee] right back to us. She is definitely a class act.” The money from Franklin and another $2,000 donated by attendees and collected during the concert helped defray expenses.

“We had about 500 people in the audience, but she performed as if there were thousands out there,” said Cheplowitz.

As Franklin sang on stage, a pleasant surprise occurred. His name was Michael Mason, a five-year-old boy from Akron. His phenomenal ability to keep up with the Queen of Soul earned him a moment in the spotlight beside her.

“Will somebody give me that boy’s name and number after the concert?” Franklin asked. Did she sign him up? Who knows? However, Mason and his family were later seen leaving the Queen’s dressing room—smiling.

Franklin headlines GNY 65thGala

In 2013, Aretha Franklin appeared at the Greater New York Division’s (GNY) annual gala. As the headline performer, Franklin paid tribute to Phil Ramone, the 14–time Grammy award winning music producer and founder of the Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children, the division’s innovative music & education initiative that bears his name. Directed by Kenneth Burton, O.F., the orchestra is based at the Salvation Army’s Harlem Temple Corps.

Franklin, who had worked with Ramone during their careers, performed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square in front of a packed and exuberant audience that included many members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

That night, because of her stunning black and gold sheath and blunt cut shiny hair style, she was dubbed “Cleopatra Franklin.”

With deep and heartfelt vocals, Aretha Franklin performed versions of “Chain of Fools,” and “Respect.” She finished with a sensational version of “Try to Remember,” which she played solo, on piano.

by Warren L. Maye

 

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