Detroit – The stars of Aretha Franklin’s new biopic “Respect” joined family members to honor the life of the music icon at the Detroit Historical Museum on Sunday.
The Detroit Historical Museum unveiled Franklin’s handprints in Legends Plaza, making her the 31st person included. Franklin’s handprints, which were created during the Aretha Franklin Way dedication in 2017, are now on permanent display in the Plaza
“Legends Plaza is a testament to the global contribution of the people of Detroit,” said Elana Rugh, President and CEO of the Detroit Historical Society. “We are proud that Ms. Franklin has chosen to add to her legacy with a permanent display in our plaza at the Detroit Historical Museum, and we couldn’t imagine a more suitable space for her handprints to be accessible to her Detroit fans and of the whole world.
Sunday’s unveiling took place just before the opening of a commemorative exhibit on Franklin, which chronicles his life until his death in 2018. The temporary exhibit includes artifacts from his life as well as used accessories and outfits in “Respect”, which is in the process of being published. August 13.
The biopic traces Franklin’s rise from a church singer to an international star. Franklin was known for songs including “A Natural Woman” and his 1967 hit “Respect”, from which the film’s title is taken. Having started recording music at age 14, Franklin received 18 Grammy Awards during his career.
“We know how important Aretha Franklin is to our community,” said Rebecca Salminen Witt, director of strategy and marketing for the Detroit Historical Society, at the opening.
“We were really excited when we heard there was going to be a new movie about her life, and we had something special in our collection just waiting for the right moment to share with Detroit.”
“Respect” is the debut film from director Liesl Tommy, the first woman of color to be nominated for the Tony Award for Best Directing in a Play. Singer-actress Jennifer Hudson stars as Franklin in the film, joining a cast that includes Frank Whitaker and Audra McDonald.
Tommy and Hudson both joined Franklin’s family members for the handprint unveiling at Legends Plaza.
Members of Franklin’s immediate family were also present to watch Hudson and Tommy remove the cover from the handprints. Kecalf Franklin, Aretha’s son, said “it means everything” to see his mother remembered.
“We are grateful that everyone recognizes her and her achievements in life,” Kecalf said, adding that her family had seen the film and found it “awesome”.
The exhibition, which runs until the end of the month, opened to the public on Sunday afternoon. COVID-19 has limited the museum to being open Thursday through Sunday every week.
Album covers, decorative dresses and a piano were among the items on display at the museum. A Michigan Chronicle cover commemorating her death and a proclamation naming an Aretha Franklin Day in Detroit are also on display.
A large panel in the exhibit also details her commitment to social justice, portraying Franklin as an advocate for civil and women’s rights and regularly welcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Jessie Jackson.
Visitors like Mary Jones from Detroit were delighted to see the Franklin exhibit. Jones said she arrived at the museum half an hour before it opened to see it on Sunday.
“Detroiters should come down and take a look at this exhibit,” Jones said, noting Franklin’s deep commitment to the city in which she grew up.
Franklin moved to Detroit when she was young and traveled there regularly, even as she rose to fame. His body is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.
In addition to the Aretha Franklin Way, the Queen of Soul is also the namesake of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater in Detroit.
Jones said she feels a connection to Franklin because of her connection to the city and the words about the changes people are going through in their lives. Jones went to Franklin’s funeral and visited her body after she passed through three different locations, she said, because “she was someone you couldn’t forget.”
At the show, Jones saw the cover of “Aretha’s Gold,” an album featuring some of Franklin’s greatest hits. Jones said she plans to return home and listen to the album after leaving the museum.
“I really think she would be delighted with what they did here,” Jones said. “I really do.”