Lady Soul Aretha Franklin Only Sings the Blues Onstage, Now That She's Wed Actor Glynn Turman
The audience at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, down the peninsula from San Francisco, is clapping against the beat and calling out, “Sing it, Aretha! Sing that song!” to the intense woman onstage. Then, after a heart-wringing You Light Up My Life—”You put Debby Boone to shame, girl,” someone shouts—the Queen of Soul asks, “Do you want to meet someone special?” “Yeah!” the crowd of 3,800 roars. “You wanna meet Glynn?” “YEAH!”
Down the aisle strides Glynn Turman, in white shirt, black slacks and the off-white cowboy hat he feels undressed without. He vaults onstage, takes the mike from Aretha’s heavily ringed hand and booms: “Is my baby doin’ it to ya?” (Roar.) “She’s doin’ it to me, too!” (Bigger roar, with laughter.) “All the time!” (Giant roar, with belly laugh.) Mrs. Aretha Franklin Turman (“That’s my name,” she insists) claps hand over mouth in mock horror, and as Glynn jumps from the stage she coos, “Oooh, oooh, oooh, the Doctor!”
Dr. Feelgood, she means, of course, and he’s finally made a house call on the troubled Aretha. Turman, 31, a respected and currently in-demand actor, has been her husband since April. “I’ve never seen Aretha in better spirits,” says her brother (and manager) Cecil. “She’s as happy as she’s ever been. She’s not singing the blues.” Before she met her man, Franklin’s career—10 Grammys and 21 gold records—was in a temporary slump. Now she has rebounded. Her new album, Almighty Fire, is nearing gold and recent concert dates have drawn enthusiastic crowds. At 36, Aretha has, in fact, never sung the blues so joyfully.
In their sparsely furnished living room on three wooded acres in Encino, Calif. she recalls that she and Turman first met only by accident. It was really the work of Aretha’s son Clarence, the eldest of her four boys.
At a February 1977 benefit for Roosevelt Grier’s Giant Step program for underprivileged children in Los Angeles, Ben Vereen, on the bill with Aretha, introduced his pal Glynn to a young man whose name Turman didn’t catch. “My mother just loves you,” the young man blurted. “Who’s your mother?” Turman asked idly. “Aretha Franklin,” said Clarence, and took the suddenly interested Glynn to her dressing room. Franklin, a private woman who can be distant with strangers, says, “I’ve often thanked Clarence. What if he hadn’t been there?”
Turman laughs: “Know what we really talked about? Acting. She told me she was interested in classes. Well, it so happens…”
What so happens is that Glynn, son of a frustrated actress who raised him alone in Harlem and Greenwich Village, was then teaching acting at L.A.’s Inner City Repertory Theater. He made his stage debut at 12 in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 smash hit, A Raisin in the Sun, with Sidney Poitier. He went on to such widely praised works as Lonny Elder’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men on TV and Brock Peters’ movie Five on the Black Hand Side. In the 1975 film Cooley High, Glynn caught the eye of Ingmar Bergman and earned a role in his film The Serpent’s Egg. Glynn told Aretha to “fall by” his class any time. “I never expected to see her there, though,” he says.
Franklin had similar doubts. She invited him to her upcoming 35th-birthday party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I didn’t think he was coming, either,” she says. But he went to the party and she went to class. She turned out to be an excellent, devoted student. “She’s got a comic sense people wouldn’t believe,” says Turman. “She was very serious, always taking notes.”
“I was taking notes,” Aretha giggles, “but I was kinda making eyes at the teacher, too.”
Their romance gathered steam after she accepted Turman’s invitation to join him at a family Fourth of July picnic with his three children. He’d been married for seven years to a childhood sweetheart and divorced in 1972. Aretha was the wife of Ted White, her manager, in the ’60s. She gave birth to her fourth son during a years-long relationship with her then road manager, Ken Cunningham. The boy’s name is Kecalf, an acronym of their names, and pronounced “Keif.”
Her kids liked Glynn. Vice versa. But both adults were wary of marriage. They roamed Paris together while taping a special (so far seen only on French TV) in which they performed the Cyrano balcony scene, but Turman didn’t propose until two months later. It took place in a motel in rural Texas, when she visited him while he was shooting a TV movie.
Their marriage this April was performed by Aretha’s minister father, C. L. Franklin. His 2,200-seat New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where 12-year-old Aretha first sang the gospel solos that led to her recording career, was packed. A radiant Aretha wore a gown decorated with 7,000 pearls that almost knocked out the TV cameras of the three networks that covered. Twelve bridesmaids attended, the Four Tops harmonized on Isn’t She Lovely? and Franklin’s sister Carolyn and cousin Brenda sang solos. Glynn had 12 groomsmen.
Turman and his three children then moved in with Aretha and 8-year-old Kecalf. Besides a pool and basketball court, the Encino spread features acoustic and electronic pianos, video cassette player and a plethora of TV sets. The kids all do well in school (if not household chores) and (“because it is educational,” says Franklin) go along on the Turmans’ jaunts to Europe or to events like the Grammy awards. Turman has been busy; two TV movies, Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree and Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold, aired last month. He is also in parts six and seven of NBC’s Centennial, which will run in December. But he still gets away to play racquet ball and ride his two horses. “That’s my meditation,” Turman confides.
His longtime friend, actor Lou Gossett, says, “Glynn and Aretha are two halves of a circle. She’s got guts and soul and he’s got a disciplined, artistic temperament. They’re very close buddies too, and that’s an indication of a long-term relationship.”
Still, their differences keep things lively. Franklin smokes; Turman wishes she didn’t. He’s a vegetarian (90 percent devout); she says, “Give me a piece of meat every time.” He drives a small Japanese station wagon; she rides in a chauffeured limo. Do they argue? “We have our rounds,” grins Turman. “We don’t have no rounds,” Franklin shoots back. Turman cackles, pleased: “See what I mean?”