To the public, she was the Queen of Soul, but to photographer and friend Linda Solomon, Aretha Franklin was humble, curious and funny

By Greta Bjornson
October 18, 2019 02:47 PM
Linda Solomon

In 1983, Linda Solomon, then a young photojournalist, waited outside of a Detroit talk show, hoping to get just one picture of Aretha Franklin. She got her photo and would soon strike up a friendship of over 20 years. 

She’s kept many of her photos of the music legend private until now. But a year after Franklin’s 2018 death at 76 from pancreatic cancer, Solomon has put together a collection of her photos, some never before seen, along with some of her favorite memories in a new book, The Queen Next Door.

Solomon, a Detroit native, had to earn the trust of the famously private Franklin, but in time, she did. Over the years, she was there to photograph many of her private moments, such as makeup-free rehearsals, fundraisers at Franklin’s home, and the star backstage at awards shows. Along the way, their relationship transformed from subject and photographer to two close friends. 

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Franklin between takes for a 1986 Amoco commercial with her famous pink Cadillac
Linda Solomon

With the publication of her book, Solomon hopes to show the public the Franklin she knew and loved: a funny, intelligent and kind woman who was surprisingly down to earth. 

“This is the natural Aretha that people have never seen,” says Solomon. “I never asked her to pose.”

One of her fondest memories is photographing Franklin’s parties, which she would host for family birthdays and holidays. 

“No one could entertain like Aretha. She addressed her own invitations, and she always would plan everything — from the menu, to entertainment, to selecting the floral arrangements,” Solomon says. “She would have all of these very famous singers and musicians in her living room, but she didn’t perform with them. She mingled with everyone and was loads of fun.”

Franklin at the 1985 Easter Seals telethon in downtown Detroit
Linda Solomon
An invitation to Franklin's 1985 Christmas party
Linda Solomon

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Solomon has many warm memories from her time with Franklin.

“She had the most fabulous sense of humor. It was a riot because she had rented the USS Sequoia, the presidential yacht, for a private party and there was one photo where you see her pretending to be a little bit seasick, but we were docked. It was so cute. I think it shows a side of her that no one would ever expect,” Solomon remembers.

Franklin aboard the USS Sequoia in 1988, where she hosted a private party
Linda Solomon

Franklin also had a curious streak, always yearning to learn more and keep improving, even studying opera for 20 years of her career.

“She was always learning, always improving, always getting better. And as famous and successful as she was, she was always continuing to study,” Solomon shares.

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And outside of her home, Franklin acted like a regular Detroit resident; she would stop to pick up her own groceries.

“She felt that she could be her authentic self living at home in Detroit,” Solomon says. “She could do the things she loved to do: going to the delis, to the Big Boy, to Red Lobster — the casual places. I would often see her at the grocery store and I once said to the cashier, ‘Do you know Aretha is in the produce aisle?’ The cashier looked at me and said, ‘She’s always here.’”

RELATED: Inside the Amazing, Private Life of Aretha Franklin

Franklin with close friend Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops
Linda Solomon
Franklin outside of her home at a 1987 fundraiser she hosted for Reverend Jesse Jackson's presidential bid
Linda Solomon

When Franklin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010, a diagnosis she long kept private, she and Solomon spoke less. In 2014, Solomon was surprised to find a Facebook friend request from a name she didn’t recognize, who soon revealed herself to be Franklin. 

“She would post very poignant things about finding a cure for cancer, the dreaded disease that took her life, and she would post her own photographs. And when she passed away, I was looking back at her Facebook and I discovered that she only had 22 friends,” she says. 

Aretha backstage at the 1986 American Music Awards, where she accepted her second award
Linda Solomon

After seeing Franklin through her own lens for decades, Solomon thinks people often mischaracterize her friend as a diva, which is why she named her book The Queen Next Door. 

“She could be the lady next door, even though she was the Queen of Soul. And I think that would surprise people, that she was so real,” she says. “She was so private, but she allowed me to capture the natural woman, and I’m grateful.”

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