Aretha remembered

Linda Armstrong | 8/23/2018, midnight
Retired choreographer Louis Johnson worked with Aretha Franklin for 40 years, choreographing her concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center ...
Aretha Franklin and her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn Photo courtesy of Gwendolyn Quinn

“My fondest memory? I saw her Aug. 26, 2017. She was playing at the Mann Center outside of Philadelphia. That was her last concert and I went to see her. I was fortunate enough to get tickets and someone arranged for me to go backstage. There were over 10,000 at the concert, it was just amazing, an outside concert and the weather couldn’t have been better. It was fit for a queen that evening. And she gave a performance like I hadn’t heard from her or seen since the early ‘70s when she started. She was energized, it was amazing, and when she sat down to play the piano the place went bananas, because no one could play the piano and sing like Aretha. And she was ill at the time. After the show I went backstage with two of my friends. When we were leaving, she called my name and said, ‘Barbara, you’ve always been a class act.’ I almost fell down. My eyes filled with tears. That was the last contact and the fondest memory.

“She left a library of beautiful music. I don’t think anyone really had the magnitude that she had on us. It’s like losing a personal relative. It has been my pleasure to have known her and been in her company. I feel blessed to have known her.

“I want people to remember that she was a wonderful person. She was kind, not only talented. With the Civil Rights Movement when Martin Luther King couldn’t make payroll she paid it. But she did it anonymously. She didn’t want the fanfare. I’m so glad I’m able to go to the funeral.”

Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 16 at the age of 76. A viewing will take place on Aug. 28 and Aug. 29 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit. The public is invited to attend from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. An additional viewing has been scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 30, from noon to 4 p.m., at New Bethel Baptist Church. Funeral services will be held Aug. 31 at the Greater Grace Temple for family and close friends.