My love of photography started as a child,” photojournalist Linda Solomon said of the camera her parents gifted her, along with a photo album, that she said really changed her life.
“I teach children because I know how it can change your life,” she said of her nationally-acclaimed program across the U.S. where she introduces children in shelters and charities by handing them a camera and letting them showcase their lives through photojournalism.
The former Seaholm High School grad said she was always the kid with the camera. She first began freelancing for the Birmingham Eccentric, then moved on to The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.
“I always focused on celebrities. I had the opportunity to see all the Motown stars,” she recalled. “I met the Supremes with my parents at The Roostertail. Aretha (Franklin) was already a huge name in New York and L.A., and then came back home in 1982. I met her in 1983, and we became friends, and continued to be friends, for 40 years.”
Solomon celebrates her friendship with Franklin in a new book she has coming out in October, “The Queen Next Door: An Intimate Portrait of Aretha Franklin,” filled not only with anecdotes about parties, concerts and rehearsals, but portraits, invitations she saved from those parties, and candids from personal events.
“I wanted the book to look like an album she would have had on her coffee table, including her invitations, menus and photos,” Solomon said. “I only included photos that have never been seen – very rare experiences with her, from birthday parties, family holiday parties, rehearsals – I even have some from her son's college graduation with the MSU cheerleaders. She was so proud.”
Solomon noted she had very rare access to Franklin not only because of their friendship, but she always took film photos, and used her camera sparingly.
“She always included me because digital people take thousands of photos. I take two or three. I'd take what I needed; I had a column in the News – and then I'd be a guest at her parties. That was what was endearing – I'd ask her to pose briefly, take a couple candids, and then leave her alone.”
Solomon said Franklin was very private. “She could be really fun. She'd call me to gossip,” she said.
And she said that no one could party like Aretha, hiring local caterers, florists and entertainers for her twice a year parties. Because she wouldn't leave Detroit, “She brought everyone to Detroit,” Solomon said. “In the '80s, she brought the music back here, recording here, shooting commercials here, videos here, bringing people here. She brought the music industry back to Detroit.”
Solomon said she has a special affinity for the '80s and '90s, concentrating those years in her book. One of her favorite photos, she said, “is a rehearsal of her with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, wearing no makeup, just sitting at the piano with the symphony,” noting that “no one was like Aretha on the piano. No one could accompany Aretha like Aretha.”
Solomon is looking forward to the biographical movie being made about Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson, and said Franklin was very excited about it, too.
“She was our Elvis, and our Queen. For me to look back and share the photos that are very personal – she was one in a million, and I'm so glad that our paths crossed.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent