Minnesota musicians remember Aretha Franklin and her legacy

Music legend Aretha Franklin passed away Thursday morning at her Detroit home, but her impact and influences continue to be felt worldwide as well as in Minnesota.

Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and sold more than 75 million records. With 112 singles charted on Billboard, she is the most charted female artist ever.

Former arranger remembers

Adi Yeshaya is a former teacher at the McNally Smith College of Music, but for five years in the early 2000s, he was Aretha Franklin’s go-to guy for musical arrangements.

Yeshaya has worked with superstars from Prince to Lena Horn, but he’s heartbroken one of his collaborators, considered to be one of the greatest voices of all time, has been silenced.

"Even though it was a shock to everyone, it's something we all knew was coming,” he said. “Now it's a new world without Aretha Franklin."

Yeshaya grew up listening to Franklin’s string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s like her hit song, “Respect.”

Her appearance in the Blues Brothers movie introduced her to a new generation of fans.

Yeshaya said it was her performance of Puccini’s Aria Nessun Dorma at the Grammy’s in 1998 - filling in for a sick Pavoratti - that stole his heart.

"The way she delivers it, her voice was beautiful. It was the soundtrack of my childhood."

A few years later, Yeshaya was asked to come up with arrangements for a couple of songs on Franklin’s 2003 album “So Damn Happy,” including the title track.

For the next two years, Franklin flew him all over the country to bring arrangements for her live shows, but he said the woman with the big voice in public spoke quietly in private.

"I thought I would be taking orders but she was very, very nice. She was very gracious, appreciated everything people were doing for her. It was quite an interesting discovery,” said Yeshaya.

Last time Yeshaya saw Franklin was when he played keyboards in her back up band at the State Fair in 2014, but even though she’s gone, he says no one will ever dethrone the Queen of Soul.

"Her legacy will live forever,” he said. “We'll never see her alive but we'll never forget this voice."

Yeshaya said he was supposed to work with Franklin on an album of Arias, but it never came to fruition. In all, he says he did musical arrangements for about 15 songs for Franklin.

Minnesotans react

For Jamecia Bennett, a longtime member of the Grammy-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness, Franklin’s legacy is more than her amazing talent – it’s also the voice she gave to women.

“She took a song that was already out, ‘Respect,’ and she made it come from the voice of a woman,” said Bennett. “She allowed women to have a voice to say we need to be respected and it was on the radio.”

A standout memory for is performing with Franklin and Luther Vandross at the 1992 Grammys. She says Franklin was nearly two hours late for rehearsal and Vandross let her have it.

“And she smoked her cigarette while Luther was talking and she put it on the floor of the Grammy stage and put it out,” said Bennett. “And we’re like did she just put a cigarette out on the stage of the Grammys?  And then you know what happened? They got a broom and a dustpan and swept it up and kept it moving.”

For longtime Twin Cities actor and singer T. Mychael Rambo, he felt the Franklin’s impact when he was just out of rehab at Hazelden, sitting with a Saturday night men’s group. They were watching "The Blues Brothers" and her performance of “Think” hit the sweet spot.

“Each time she said ‘think,’ all of us surrounding that television in treatment were like "wow." There are consequences to our behavior and we found ourselves talking about it in group the following day,” said Rambo.

At age 72, Franklin performed at the Minnesota State Fair and her confidence was still very apparent.

“She was a trailblazer because she was so fearless,” said Rambo.

“So she definitely changed the game for women in the content of her words,” said Bennett.