WILKES-BARRE — The music world suffered a blow Thursday morning when it was announced the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin died at age 76 from advanced pancreatic cancer.
Franklin once made a stop at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre in March 2002.
Alan K. Stout, then a music columnist for the Times Leader, remembered covering her performance and the impact she had on music.
“Her voice was incredible and her larger-than-life personality shined,” said Stout. “She played her hit songs. But the song that stood out the most was her soulful and powerful performance of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ during which she played the piano. It was magnificent.”
Franklin was also known for being a diva, and she played up that stereotype, according to Stout.
“Before the show, I caught a glimpse of the set-list on the soundboard,” he said. “Right in the middle of it were the words ‘fake exit.’ I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a song title. About midway through the show, right where the words ‘fake exit’ appeared on the set-list, Aretha started throwing a hissy-fit over the air conditioning in the Kirby Center.”
Stout continued: “She supposedly asked that the air conditioning be turned off, and because it was still on, she walked off the stage. Her band kept playing, but they looked confused. A few minutes later, Aretha came back out and apologized. She said she knew the crowd had paid a lot of money to hear her sing, and that she could not perform her best if the air-conditioning was turned on, and if it came back on again, she would leave again.”
Based on the “fake exit” note he saw, Stout believes it was all an act.
“The Kirby Center certainly knows how to take very good care of the artists that perform there, and I’m sure they had everything just to her liking,” he said. “She probably knew she’d need a little mid-show break, so she decided to just play up the diva role. It served two purposes. It gave her a little rest, and the crowd got to see a little of Aretha being Aretha. Looking back on it now, it’s pretty funny.”
Stout said he got a call from the Kirby’s executive director after he included the“fake exit” story into his review of the concert.
“I got a call thanking me for letting the public know that Aretha Franklin had no problem with the venue.”
Like many fans of Franklin’s work, he sees her death as a great loss for the music world.
“She charted 117 singles, 17 top-10 singles and 20 No. 1 R&B singles, won 18 Grammy Awards, sold 75 million records and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” said Stout. “She did all of that as a very young black woman, smack dab in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. Her performance at President Barrack Obama’s inauguration was beautiful and historic. She truly was the Queen of Soul.”
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes