Linda Solomon will exhibit images of the Queen of Soul during DSO musical program.
It’s been 25 years since photojournalist Linda Solomon experienced concert preparation with Aretha Franklin as the noted singer rehearsed for a one-time performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Now Solomon shares those experiences by exhibiting some 50 images in the atrium and display area of the concert hall as the symphony dedicates a program — “Respect: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin” — with presentations by guest vocalists from New York.
During four events over Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28, Franklin’s songs will be recalled by stellar vocalists Tamika Lawrence, Shaleah Adkisson and Blaine Alden Krauss as Na’Zir McFadden conducts the orchestra with John Boswell at the piano.
Solomon will be in the audience for one of those concerts, seated with Franklin family members she got to know well as her friendship with Franklin grew over the years.
“Seeing Aretha with our symphony and hearing her with our symphony were both absolutely outstanding,” said Solomon, talking about the Detroit-based entertainer best known for the songs “Respect,” “A Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”
“In Orchestra Hall, it was so magnificent,” Solomon continued. “She let me stand next to her on stage when she rehearsed. It was her only rehearsal, and I asked her if I could be close, and she said yes.
“I did a photo essay for CNN that aired in 1998 on this performance, and she let me stand next to her when she was at the piano. Aretha accompanied herself, which was so incredible to document.”
The portraits from the DSO performance will be featured with other Franklin portraits that Solomon has taken, and the CNN interview will be shown.
Solomon, 29 when she first met Franklin, was a photographer and columnist for the Detroit News. She learned Franklin was about to appear on a local television show and asked a TV production member if she could take pictures.
On advice, Solomon waited outside for Franklin to arrive, briefly stopped her, requested photographic approval and Franklin agreed.
“Aretha liked the column, and I received a phone message from her afterwards,” Solomon recalled. “When I was able to (return the call), she invited me to Mayor Coleman Young’s residence, where she was announcing a concert and would like to have me there. That started our whole relationship.
“We became friends, and she would continue to invite me to document her birthday parties, Christmas parties and concerts in Detroit.
“Her father tragically had been shot and was in a coma, and she came home. She didn’t leave Detroit at that point. In a portrait I had taken, you can almost see a sadness in her eyes.”
Solomon explained how she got to know Franklin’s family throughout the years by being invited to personal events.
“She knew I respected her family as much as I respected her,” Solomon explained. “She enjoyed opening up the paper and seeing a photo of her sister, niece or brother, and I was never intrusive.”
Because people did not have cell phones in the early years of Franklin’s success, Solomon was able to have some very singular pictures and presented them in a 2019 book, The Queen Next Door: Aretha Franklin, An Intimate Portrait.
“I wanted to pay tribute and say thank you for all the opportunities she had given me to document her life and to be able to show her fans a side of her maybe they hadn’t seen,” Solomon said. “I have written about the various events that I captured, but it is a pictorial book.
“I tell people when they have photographs they bring back memories, and I feel very strongly in telling people to print their photographs. You don’t know what can happen in cyberspace 20 years from now. If you have albums, you can go back, and everything is right there for you.
“In this exhibition, Aretha is right here again, and it’s very special for me to exhibit, for the first time, photographs captured in Orchestra Hall, and to have the exhibition in Orchestra Hall is quite an honor for me.”
As Solomon recalls the personal times associated with Franklin, she is aware how the entertainer used to go grocery shopping at the Kroger store on Telegraph and 15 Mile. Solomon saw her there once and learned from the cashier that the singer often was in the store.
Franklin, a very religious Christian, did not discuss Solomon’s Judaism, but Solomon felt there was a respect for that aspect of the photographer’s life.
“I was just starting my career when I met her, and I think she wanted to help another woman,” Solomon said. “She felt very strongly about supporting women, and she had many friends of the Jewish faith.”
Attending and photographing private Franklin events, Solomon met Franklin’s Jewish doctor, Seymour Ziegelman, and started consulting him.
“Aretha was a very empathetic and caring woman with qualities that are greatly admired,” Solomon said. “She never asked me for photo approval, and she was very trusting in knowing that I would be very sensitive.
“For me to look at this special time, 25 years ago, brought back some very beautiful memories for me. I hope it will bring back some beautiful memories for all her fans.”
“Respect: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin” will be performed at 10:45 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, May 26; 8 p.m. Saturday, May 27; and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 28, in Orchestra Hall. Tickets start at $19 and include exhibit entry. (313) 576-5111. dso.org.