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Close friend of Aretha Franklin remembers her generosity, life lessons

DETROIT – Fans and friends continue to mourn the loss of Aretha Franklin after the 76-year-old died from pancreatic cancer on Thursday. Many are now taking the time to reflect and celebrate the life she lived.

“You prepare yourself intellectually for the reality. However, once it hits you, the emotions set in,” explained Mildred Gaddis, a close friend to Franklin. “It’s been a rough week, I’ve got to tell you, it’s been a tough week.”

Gaddis, who is considered the Queen of Talk in Detroit, is a radio talk show host in the Motor City. She met the Queen of Soul about 25 years ago while at one of her parties.

“I think the friendship came about because we genuinely didn’t want anything from each other, other than just friendship,” explained Gaddis. “When you’re at the level that Aretha Franklin is, the world is always grabbing at you, wanting something, needing something, but we didn’t want anything but friendship, and that’s the best kind.”

The Texas Southern University graduate said she learned Franklin was not well and went to visit her.

“I went to see her. I did not want her to check out without me having shared how grateful I was for her friendship, her love and her generosity,” explained Gaddis. “She was very, very graceful. Her response was, ‘Well you’ve been very good to me down the years.'"

Gaddis said she knows that in moments of despair, people offer to help in any way, and she felt compelled to do so as well.

“I said, ‘I’m sincere about it. Want me to go home, clean up, scrub your floors?’ She laughed and she said, ‘No I don’t want you to scrub my floors.'”

“Aretha knew who she was, and she also understood that her journey was winding (down), she was very clear on that,” said Gaddis. “She had a very healthy attitude about it and the knowledge that the time has come.”

Gaddis, who grew up in Mississippi, said as a child she would listen to Franklin’s music.

“My mother is playing Aretha Franklin’s album and she has on 'Dr. Feelgood.' I don’t know if I was cleaning, I don’t know what I was doing, but the song says, 'I don’t want my mother, my sister, my brother, I don’t want anybody around me and my man.' I’m thinking, well, the mother is the first love subject, most important in the world, so this must be some heavy-duty stuff,” laughed Gaddis.

“I learned about love growing up listening to Aretha Franklin’s songs,” said Gaddis.

She said "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." also touched her as a powerful song that she believes gave women and people of color a sense of pride and energy.

“It (the song) came out at a time when America was coming to terms with herself, in terms of who she really was,” explained Gaddis.

Generosity

Gaddis said while everyone reflects on Franklin’s contributions to the music world, as they rightfully should, she also believes the Queen of Soul’s generosity needs to be talked about as well.

“When Hurricane Katrina happened, there were families that came to Michigan. She put them up in hotels, she fed them and she sent them on shopping sprees,” explained Gaddis.

Years ago, after Gaddis and her husband got married, she received a call from a representative of Franklin’s.

“I get this phone call from this gentleman. He said, ‘She wants you all to join her in Los Angeles at the Grammys and I need to know your names and all this information so I can get these tickets for you,'” said Gaddis. “I’m not accustomed to people being nice to me, not that kind of nice, and as a Southern girl, I said, ‘She can take care of the hotel, I’ll take care of the flights,'” laughed Gaddis.

She said they arrived to find a gorgeous gift basket.

“Went to check out and she left me a check for spending money for us, that’s just the nature and beauty of being a friend. She was generous to everybody, everybody.”

Life lessons

It’s no secret that Franklin went through ups and downs in her life. Gaddis reflected on the lessons others can take away from her close friend’s life.

“You got to be strong enough to let whatever the world throws at you bounce back in the direction of wherever it comes from. Aretha was all that, she also very spiritual,” said Gaddis.

“When you have failures, look at them for what they are, get the lesson from that experience and keep moving. That’s the great lesson from her life,” said Gaddis.

“I think one of the greatest lessons she taught women is that royalty does not weep in the streets,” explained Gaddis. “In this era of reality television when everybody is exposing everything, one of the great lessons to learn from her is that everybody’s business is nobody’s business. There are some things the world has no right to know.”

She said no matter what the world threw at her, the Queen of Soul was able to handle it.

“She is an icon, make no mistake about it, but she was also a woman, and I’m grateful, and I think the world should be grateful, to her four sons who had to share her with the world,” expressed Gaddis. “For her to become the icon she was and remains unmatched, there will never be anybody on that level again.”

“The greatest lesson is that God gives each of us a phenomenal gift, and sometimes because we may have our eyes set on something else, we don’t maximize on that. How in the world does any individual sustain the spotlight on the level, over 50 years, like Aretha Franklin? It happens because first of all, you recognize what your gift is and (are) totally committed to utilizing it.”

Funeral information

Wednesday, Aug. 28

  • The Queen of Soul will lie in state from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
  • The museum is located at 315 E. Warren in Detroit.

Friday, Aug. 31

Aretha Franklin’s funeral will be at 10 a.m. at Greater Grace Temple at 23500 West 7 Mile Rd in Detroit.