Nationally-renowned artist, Fel’le, was painting a mural for the Liv6 non-profit organization on Livernois and West McNichols in Detroit, when he halted that job to pay his respects to Aretha Franklin following her death.
The native Detroiter owns an art gallery on Detroit’s Historic Avenue of Fashion and airbrushed a mural of the Queen of Soul on a brick wall next to his building. The mural is called “Aretha” and took Fel’le six hours to complete.
“With Aretha making Detroit her home and blessing the world with her music, I think any artist that’s creating, Aretha has always been and is an influence for our artwork,” said Fel’le, who has done artwork for the likes of Tyler Perry, Jay-Z and Beyonce, R. Kelly, and many others. “She’s the soundtrack of the city and I wanted to show my love and appreciation for her investment in my artistry and the world.”
The mural is of an 18-year-old Franklin, who was posing for a photograph in 1960 when her storied career began to takeoff. Fel’le promises to keep it up for at least one year and said he would replace it with another memorial to the Queen of Soul.
After Franklin’s grand memorial service Friday at Greater Grace Temple, a caravan of more than 130 pink Cadillacs rode past Fel’le’s art gallery on Livernois, where thousands of people were able to view the mural and a pink 1970s Cadillac Sedan de Ville parked out front.
New Bethel Baptist Church, where Franklin’s father was pastor for over 40 years, was the backdrop for several days of mourning and celebrations for the Queen of Soul. One block south of the church, local graffiti artist Sintex spent eight hours painting a mural of Franklin on an abandoned building on the southwest corner of Linwood and Euclid. The mural is an airbrushed portrait of Franklin in her younger years, with the words “Rest in Respect, Queen” beside it in bold cursive letters. The photo was taken from Franklin’s 2010 “The Essential Aretha Franklin: The Columbia Years” album which features 40 records from her time with the record label.
The building that the 36-year used to airbrush the mural on is rundown but has a for sale sign in front of it. Sintex is not sure how long it will stay up once the building is sold but wants the world to admire his work of art that used 12 cans of spray paint.
“Unfortunately, you know, it happens,” said Sintex, who has murals all over the city. “I had previous works get torn down or get damaged or things like that — or get painted over by new owners.”
While many local Detroit artists chose to use photographs for their tributes to Aretha Franklin, nationally-renowned artist Adam Kiyoshi Fujita flew to Detroit from Brooklyn, New York to add his own signature flavor to the mural tributes. On the side of the Baltimore Gallery near the New Center Area in Detroit, Fujita airbrushed “Aretha” in hot pink, neon, dripping paint on a black brick wall. He also airbrushed “R.I.P. Queen of Soul” just to the bottom right on her name. The neon dripping paint is Fujita’s signature style of airbrushing and is a response to the election results of 2016 in the United States, in which Fujita has been using the neon as a metaphor for “keeping the lights on ” this volatile and dangerous Trump administration.
“It was absolutely amazing to see such a work of art in the middle of a community that is filled with so much soul,” said Detroiter Cydnie Randolph. “It makes you want to scream out “Aretha” when you see it.”
Ken Harden Sr. of Detroit painted his own version of Aretha Franklin on the side of the Eastside Check Cashing building near Gratiot and East McNichols, but the mural was painted over soon after it went up. It was called “Aretha Franklin In Mind.”
Don Kilpatrick III’s mural of Aretha Franklin on the Sproat Street side of the new Little Caesars Arena (LCA) went up in 2017 but was used in a number of tributes hours after the singer’s death around The District Detroit, including the Fox Theatre, LCA, and Comerica Park. The project, called “Spirit murals” are a collection of murals that showcase a diverse group of Detroit sports and entertainment legends, which includes Eminem, Aretha Franklin, Gordie Howe, Joe Louis, and Isiah Thomas.