Aretha Franklin’s bassist has described her as a generous and kind person who was an “icon” in her hometown of Detroit.
Raphael Armstrong played the bass for Franklin for 30 years and spoke to Sky News following the announcement that she had died on Thursday after suffering from pancreatic cancer. Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, was 76.
Armstrong said: “I’m very sad because I’m going to miss her. ”
I’m going to miss her calling me up on Friday nights and saying ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘What’s new? What are you playing?’.”
He likened her to jazz musician Miles Davis, saying she was “always striving for new things”.
But he also remembered a woman of generosity, saying she had given money to “poor people, to organisations to help homeless people”, adding: “She was a great person, when she hired orchestras she would pay their pensions.
“She would file their contracts and she would pay over the scale to performers and she was very generous, wonderful woman, who cared about people.”
The singer was born on 25 March 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, but it was Detroit that became her home. She began her singing career there as a child singing gospel at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father was a minister.
And it was in Detroit that she played one of her final shows – in June last year, visibly unwell but still able to summon the magical voice that had made her famous. She had ended the performance with what were seen as cryptic words at the time: “Please keep me in your prayers.”
Armstrong, 62, said Franklin had been a “champion” and an “icon” for the city of Detroit. He described the city as having been “kicked and spat on”, adding that “people forget that this city helped save the free world in 1941 with munitions and arms production”.
Franklin announced her partial retirement last year, most recently performing in November at Sir Elton John’s Aids Foundation’s 25th anniversary gala in New York.
She recorded hundreds of tracks during her legendary career, including hits such as Respect, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer and Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.
She sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and the former president – who was brought to tears by another of her performances in Washington in 2015 – was quick to issue a powerful tribute with his wife. Also, among those sharing tributes to the singer were Sir Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Lionel Richie and Carole King.
Franklin’s family described her as “the matriarch and rock of our family”, saying that her death was “one of the darkest moments of our lives”.
Armstrong had his own tribute: “One thing I’m going to tell you about Aretha…she wasn’t about no bull.
“If you didn’t play her music right you would be beheaded.”