The Queen and I go way back. I have been a fan of hers from the beginning. How could I not be? She literally took R&B music to another stratosphere and since I play the hits, you know the Queen was in heavy rotation.
I met her face to face for the first time when I was the host of the Ebony Jet Showcase, an interview-focused TV show produced by Johnson Publishing. Mr. Johnson gave her a call and I went to her house to tape an installment of the show. She welcomed me into her Southfield, Michigan home, something very unusual for the Queen.
But if John H. Johnson called and asked you…it’s pretty hard to say no.
Let’s just say the Ebony Jet Showcase wasn’t run like a fine-tooth comb in the beginning. I was a radio DJ doing television with no experience. In fact, I got that TV gig because I promised Mr. Johnson when I came to work at his radio station, WJPC, I would make our radio show #1. He said if I lived up to my end of the bargain, he would give me my own TV show. I did what I said I would do, and he kept his word, of course.
So, the production staff and I were in her way for at least 10 hours and we really hit it off. She liked me so much that she asked me to stay for dinner. She tried to tempt me by telling me she was deep-frying some ribs!
“Um…I’m a vegetarian,” I said. “Okay, I’ll fix you a salad with lots of ranch dressing,” was her response.
She went on to make dinner for me and my crew of 20. She was so gracious. Sure, Mr. Johnson asked her to sacrifice a couple of hours for me, and those two hours turned into an all-day thing. She went way beyond what any of us expected by making us feel welcome and serving a huge home-cooked meal that me and the crew would never forget. Who does that? I’ve been in love and awe of The Queen of Soul ever since.
One of my best, of many memories, was on my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day. If you know me, you know I do Valentine’s BIG! This particular year, I surprised my ex-wife, Donna, by flying her to Detroit to have dinner with the Queen. I rented the biggest suite in Detroit and had it decorated and filled with Valentine’s gifts for the both of them. The Queen loves Chanel and she also loved Donna.
They started a friendship too. In fact, Donna talked to her all that night about the importance of exercising. Once you gained the Queen’s trust, she would open up and you would get to see the real side of her. After that evening, she would call to talk to Donna for hours about her health and she even told Donna that she wanted a good man like me!
One time after Donna and I broke up, The Queen called the house for Donna. She was hurt by the news that we were no longer together, but she didn’t want to take sides. She said she thought that we were perfect for each other but she understood us parting ways; after all, most of her songs were about perfect love gone bad.
Then she took things in a different direction and said “Hell, D.J., you bought a diamond necklace off my neck at a charity auction and gave it to Donna. I wanted to marry your ass.” We always found something to laugh about. I was happy every time I got her laugh out loud, but she got me with that one!
One year, she invited us to her summer house in the Hamptons. It was full, and since there were no empty bedrooms, she took the couch and let Donna and me sleep in her bed. And… the next morning the Queen cooked breakfast. We were not worthy!
My most recent memory of the Queen took place in Detroit. I was in town to celebrate the TJMS’s first day back on the air. I tried to check in on her but she would not see me or take my calls. In reality, she just wasn’t well enough to have visitors and that had me worried. That night, I could barely sleep.
But at 1 a.m., or so, my phone rings. I answer it and she says, “DJ, DJ, DJ! How are you, DJ?” It was one of the best phone calls I ever got. She sounded exactly like her old self, and she knew that’s what I needed to hear. It’s just another example of what a giving person she is and another reason I will always cherish our friendship.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed Kings and Queens out here, but Aretha Franklin is one of the special ones who is more than worthy of owning that regal title.
She has represented her people well and super-served us with live performances, recorded music, activism, and fierce support of the city she loves so much, Detroit!
As a friend, she has allowed me, my family, and my co-workers into her private world and that’s one of the reasons why I am so protective of her legacy and her love.
All hail the Queen of Soul!
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