Respect, starring Academy Award®-winner Jennifer Hudson, opens on Friday, August 13, 2021.
The Queen of Soul’s gospel roots and civil rights activism ran deep. Her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, was a civil rights leader who mentored a young Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. Franklin toured the country with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and used her voice to “deliver music for social justice.”
Ms. Franklin supported the Black Panther Party and the Free Angela Movement.
Congregations and organizations across the country will participate in RESPECT Sunday, “a nationwide campaign of faith leaders who will preach, teach, and share about themes of faith, family and civil rights that were deeply woven into the fabric of Ms. Franklin’s story in their worship services on Sunday, August 8, 2021.”
May is Preservation Month, a time to celebrate historic places that matter to you. The former Douglass Hotel matters to me. Built in 1926, the Douglass Hotel was first listed in the Green Book in 1938. The property was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1995. The historical marker out front notes that when Billie Holiday was “[i]n this city, she often lived here.”
The Douglass Hotel was a safe haven for Black travelers. While the hotel rooms were basic, the basement was magical. For nearly four decades, and several ownership and name changes, the basement space played host to jazz greats from Cannonball Adderley to Joe Zawinul. In the 1950s it was known as the Rendezvous Club. In the 1960s, it was renamed the Showboat. In the 1970s, it was the Bijou Café. This door leads down to the basement where Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane and Grover Washington Jr. recorded live albums.
The future Queen of Soul performed in the basement of the Douglass Hotel on January 2, 1961. In Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul, John Wilson, a pianist for the legendary Clara Ward and the Ward Singers, recalled:
Aretha Franklin came to Philly to sing at the Showboat Club on Lombard Street. After checking in at the hotel upstairs over the club, she took a cab over to Mom Ward’s house to get connected to familiar souls. She was a little nervous about breaking into pop singing. That night Clara, me, and Rudy (the Wards’ chauffeur) went to the Showboat to catch Aretha’s performance. The only people familiar with the name Aretha Franklin were gospel people, who weren’t about to show up. They were angry at her crossing over to pop. When we went in the door we heard that wonderful voice and saw that it was being wasted on an almost empty house.
Sixty years later, there will be full houses to see the movie RESPECT starring Academy Award® Winner Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin.
RESPECT will be in theaters in August. If the movie lives up to the trailer, a second Oscar might be in Jennifer Hudson’s future.
The Queen of Soul will be laid to rest this week. During her final performance in Philadelphia, Aretha Franklin told the audience:
I started, really in Philadelphia. I worked at Pep’s on Broad Street and I worked at the Cadillac Club. I’ve worked all over Philadelphia.
Indeed, she did. Ms. Franklin worked her magic at the Uptown Theater, where on Friday, August 31, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation will host a tribute to the life and music of the Queen of Soul. The event will take place in front of the historic theater.
The program will begin at 6pm with musical tributes to Ms. Franklin, followed by a candlelight ceremony at 7pm. For more info, contact Linda Richardson at (215) 236-1878.
I have visited the museum twice; my next visit is later this month. The museum can be overwhelming so I methodically focus on one floor at a time, beginning with the History Galleries.
It is as emotionally wrenching as you would imagine. It is also motivating and inspiring. I thanked the ancestors for surviving the brutality of slavery and maintaining their humanity, their “soul value.” I am empowered by their enduring legacy of struggle and resistance.
Last week, I checked out the Culture Galleries.
It was sheer joy to experience black culture in all its glory – music, fashion, dance, culinary and visual arts, as well as the performing arts. Philadelphia’s music legends are in the house, including Marian Anderson, John Coltrane, Dixie Hummingbirds, Kenny Gamble, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Leon Huff, Patti LaBelle, Paul Robeson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. There’s an image of a billboard advertising an appearance by Fats Waller at the Lincoln Theater, a Philly landmark.
I ended each visit at Contemplative Court where I sat and, well, contemplated how we got over.
All good things must come to an end. Jazz Appreciation Month is going out on a high note. On Saturday, April 30, America’s classical music will be celebrated across the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement:
Jazz was born in the U.S. and traveled the world as a music of tolerance, freedom and human dignity. This is why UNESCO created International Jazz Day and we are extremely pleased that in 2016 Washington, DC has been designated the host city for this global celebration, with a unique All Star Concert at the White House, hosted by the President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. This event reminds us Jazz is more than music – it is a universal message of peace with rhythm and meaning.
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock added:
We are thrilled that President Obama and Michelle Obama are hosting the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert at the White House, and are truly grateful for their commitment to jazz and its role in building bridges and uniting people around the world. Over the past five years, the innovation and creativity of Jazz Day has been a beacon of light to millions of people who find common ground and communicate through the values inherent in jazz. On April 30th, people of all ages in all corners of the globe will participate in International Jazz Day. A wide range of momentous events will take place in thousands of neighborhoods – and the streets will be alive with the sounds of peace and freedom.
The all-star global concert will air on ABC-TV at 8pm ET.
The Cadillac Club was located in North Philly. Owned by Benjamin and Ruth Bynum, the jazz spot played host to legends-in-the-making, including George Benson, Aretha Franklin and Billy Paul.
[Billy] Paul recalled: “[The Cadillac] was a famous, famous club. Aretha Franklin worked there. Me and George Benson used to work there all the time.” Located at 3738 Germantown Ave. in North Philadelphia, the Cadillac opened in 1965 and was run by Benjamin and Ruth Bynum before becoming the Impulse Discothèque in 1977. Benjamin booked the entertainers, Ruth handled the finances, and their two young sons Robert and Benjamin Jr. worked at the club. Benjamin Jr., who with his brother followed in their parents’ footsteps and ran their own jazz club Zanzibar Blue [and here] from 1990-2007.