New Bethel Baptist Church, where Aretha Franklin first took stage, is a stone’s throw away from The Irwin House; the family home, even closer. Our cross-streets, LaSalle and Linwood, are the streets Aretha was raised on and where she went to church, respectively. Linwood, in fact, was renamed C.L. Franklin Blvd, after her minister and activist father. We are sitting in the midst of Aretha’s home turf.
No one can know how close Detroiters feel to our legendary artists. Nearly every one of us has a story…about a neighbor, co-worker, schoolmate, babysitter, or mother’s cousin’s friend who was one of Motown’s greatest. We can casually point out their houses, and sometimes their relatives houses. We went to school with their children. We own the music because it sprang from our experience. And, the magical souls who made it are nothing less than aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, and brothers. Deep in our hearts, they are family. And, Aretha Franklin was, and remains, the mother-lode.
For every homegrown Detroiter, Aretha Franklin embodies the spirit of our great city: Her absolute excellence in her craft, her strength and resilience, her unabashed and unwavering presence of self, and her mystery, which could only be deciphered from the sacred inner circle. The fact that Aretha remained one of us ’til the end was a source of pride we carried deep within our cells. With change sweeping through the city, and a Black uncertainty that most of us here have never known, she gave us one quiet confidence that soul still lives here – that it hasn’t entirely been bought, sold, displaced, silenced, replaced or moved to the suburbs. She and her gifts belong to the world but, mostly – and what she made clear – she was ours.
“Her force was both cultural and political,” Detroit native, conceptual artist and writer, John Sims, told NBC News. “Her love and advocacy for black people was undeniable and her feminism unshakable. Before there were Black Lives Matters and #Metoo, the Queen was challenging us to ‘think’ and ‘respect’ ourselves, and to become better partners, better citizens and better humans.”
The Irwin House will honor our sister and neighbor, Aretha Franklin, with SuperNatural Woman: Tribute to the Queen – an exhibition featuring visual, literary, and performative works exploring the multi-facets of Aretha and the riffs that sought to empower us for six decades strong. That well has stopped flowing, but will never be silenced. We owe it to Aretha, the Black experience, and Detroit, to continue to share and learn from her story, our story, and to make sure history gets it right. This is, perhaps, the most important function of art.
The exhibit will open Friday, September 21, 2018. For inquiries and artist submissions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Aretha Franklin. Thank you Queen of Soul for sharing your gifts and piercing our hearts and souls. Rest in Paradise Sweet Queen…