It was to be one of the biggest nights in Charlotte’s year of music — but a sad one for its star, Aretha Franklin.
Larry Farber, a longtime Charlotte music promoter who is founding partner of the program, recalls that Franklin had settled in at the Ritz-Carlton when, a few hours later, her manager called. Megastar Whitney Houston had died. Franklin was devastated.
Franklin, in a 2017 interview, corrected reports that she was Houston’s godmother.
Farber, retelling the story Thursday after the news of Franklin’s own passing at 76, says he explained to the manager that the McGlohon is a former church sanctuary. Perhaps Franklin, with her feel for gospel music, would find performing there a cathartic way to pay tribute to her fellow diva.
That’s what happened. Farber recalls Franklin taking the McGlohon stage, seating herself at the piano and unleashing her emotions.
“It was the most memorably inspiring experience I’ve ever been part of in a Music with Friends show,” he said. “There was no better way to pay tribute to her than through music, just playing, making up the words. Everybody was crying. It was so moving and so soothing.”
Farber also chuckles at a Franklin peculiarity: She expected to be paid half her fee of more than $100,000 in cash before the show.
That preference was likely based on her experience from earlier days, Farber said, when some club owners felt little compunction about cheating black performers. Most performers are now paid by certified check.
“Her manager said, ‘Don’t be offended if she asks you to count it out twice,’ “ Farber said. “So I had a bucket full of money in hundreds, I went very slowly, and I told her how much I appreciated her being there. I said, ‘Miss Franklin, can I please count it again for you?’ and she said, ‘No, that’s all right.’
“We felt connected, like she felt that I’m an honest person. I can’t call her a friend because it was the only time I met her, but the memory of that night will live forever.”
Franklin’s pocketbook, stuffed with cash, went with her onstage and onto her piano.