The “Queen of Soul” was a “mesmerising” artist who graced the stage in Bermuda just before she soared to international fame, an island musician said yesterday.
Aretha Franklin, a multiple Grammy winner, died yesterday at her home in Detroit aged 76. But Ms Franklin was still a little-known figure in 1965 when drummer Lance Furbert opened a show for her with the other members of the Bermudian act, the Arpeggios.
Mr Furbert told The Royal Gazette:”It was clear she was going to be something exceptional.
“She seemed like a very shy, little woman, but when she sat behind that piano and started singing and playing, everything broke loose.”
Mr Furbert shared a stage with Ms Franklin alongside Quinton “Tiny” Burgess, Jimmy Landy and Edwin “Doc” Simons.
Their job was to kick off the night with popular hits at the airmen’s club on the US Naval Base before the main act.
Mr Furbert said that “the Americans might have known what was in store, but I didn’t”.
Stars brought in by the Forty Thieves Club on Front Street, where Ms Franklin also played on her visit, would often make their first performance at the US Naval Base. Mr Furbert said Ms Franklin’s performance was “incredible, unbelievable”.
Mr Furbert added the young artist had raised eyebrows by bringing only a drummer and bass player along as backing.
He added: “We were wondering what she was going to do. And it was so quiet, she didn’t talk.
“But believe me, when she started, she brought the house down.
“I had never heard anything like her before. She was mesmerising.”
Mr Furbert, a drummer, hid behind Ms Franklin’s piano to watch her drummer’s technique.
He said: “I crouched down. Of course, when she started singing, I just stood up.
“I was blown away, but so was everybody else. I don’t think they noticed. At the time she was not a megastar, but when I looked out at the audience, just about all of whom were men, they were going crazy.”
He added: “You would have thought of her music as black music, but everybody just ate it up.”
Mr Burgess recalled: “She was singing jazz, gospel too. She was really pretty, really young then, not a superstar.
“After she went back to the States was when she became famous.”
Freeman “King” Trott, who turns 87 tomorrow, said he still had vivid memories of Ms Franklin’s show at the Forty Thieves Club.
Mr Trott said: “She was 23, 24, a beautiful woman, with a very strong voice. She was playing on her piano. It was a great show.
“I shook her hand, but I didn’t have time for conversation. We were doing three shows a night.
“The place was packed — Forty Thieves in those days was out of sight. This was before she got famous, but after she left Bermuda she skyrocketed.”
Mr Trott said the news of Ms Franklin’s death “shocked” him.
He added: “I’d heard she was poorly. Then again, those ladies had a hard life as entertainers. They had to go through a lot, not like us guys.
“But Aretha Franklin was one of the finest that came through here, and she proved it later on.”
Tony Brannon, whose father, Terry, ran the Forty Thieves Club, said Ms Franklin, was “a big deal. Mind you, the entertainment business was so different. That was before arenas, when people still played nightclubs”.
He said it was “an amazing time when soul was exploding all over the States and Bermuda”.
He added: “Bermuda had a good run of it.”
Ms Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942, but brought up in Detroit, Michigan. She started out as a gospel singer before she signed a record deal at the age of 18.
Commercial success grew in the 1960s, and took off after she was signed to Atlantic Records in 1966.
Ms Franklin became a worldwide star when she hit the charts in 1967 with a cover of Otis Redding’s Respect, which became her signature song.
She was a top-selling artist through the late 1980s, as well as vocal champion of the Civil Rights Movement.
Later career heights included singing in 2009 at the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
The artist’s cancer was diagnosed in 2010. She stepped down from performing last year, when she released A Brand New Me, her final album.