New plans to show R-E-S-P-E-C-T to Aretha Franklin’s birth home in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- At 73 years old, Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, has seen her share of R-E-S-P-E-C-T these days with presidential performances, awards from around the globe and honorary college degrees.

But travel to South Memphis along Lucy Avenue, and you'll find the old abandoned house where Aretha was born.

Neighbors such as Angela Rodgers said it's getting no respect.

"I'm looking at Aretha Franklin's home, but I'm also looking at something that could be taken care of better, and also looking at revenue for our city. I'm thinking something should be done about this," Rodgers said.

As Aretha told me in a 1995 exclusive WREG interview, the first year's of her life were spent in this home on Lucy Avenue in Memphis.

"It's wonderful to be back in the neighborhood and go through the home where I was born to see what my parents provided for us and what mom cooked for us and dad came home after a day's sermon," Franklin said in 1995.

Last year, WREG showed you how the Franklin house has turned into a neighborhood eyesore with boarded up windows, and water and fire damage surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds.

It was so run down it recently ended up in Environmental Court.

But several groups fought to save it and the judge agreed.

"What we've done Alex is to ask the judge to make us the receiver of the house. What we want to do now is make sure its in pretty good shape, maintain it. For the most part the Judge(Potter) and Environmental Court has said you guys can become receiver of it and figure out what we do next," said Jeffrey Higgs, the Executive Director of the LeMoyne-Owen Community Development Corporation.

LeMoyne-Owen CDC, LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis Heritage, the Soulsville Foundation and Community Lift  all came together to figure out how to give new life to this old home.

"I think through Environmental Court we hope to see a coalition of people on this effort with the local CDC taking the lead," said June West, the Executive Director of Memphis Heritage. "It's going to be a community project. It's for the people and supports the entire concept around Soulsville, Stax and the Stax Academy. It fits so we need to make it happen."

"We are trying to pull this together. I don't want people thinking we're about to ask for taxpayer money. We know there are some costs associated with it, but we've had some anonymous folks who've stepped up to say I want to be a part of it," Higgs said.

Organizers said their goal is to move the Queen of Soul's old home on Lucy Avenue to right here; Soulsville, USA.

They said it would be a perfect fit for music royalty.

"I think of the fact that the most famous female singer in the world was born in that house just a few blocks from here and something really needs to be done because Aretha Franklin was born in that house," said the Communications Director for the Soulsville Foundation and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music Tim Sampson. "We're not trying to gentrify this neighborhood or change it that much, but we do want to revitalize it and bring some economic activity and give people more reason to come over here and see Soulsville. I think there's still that perception out there that this is in a bad part of town and once people get here they fall in love with it."

The house would either be placed on College Street not far from the Memphis Slim house, or across the street from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music on McLemore Avenue.

McLemore Avenue would pay tribute to Aretha, if she gives her approval to the tentative project plans.

"Back to your Aretha question, we can't do anything with her name or her family name until we make that connection with her," explained Higgs. "We're in the process of doing that."

"It's a great little house and I've been inside it and does have a feeling in it and I hope we can get Aretha involved in it. I don't know where she is on it, but hopefully we can have her here and tour the Stax Museum," Sampson said.

The plans called for major changes ranging from a possible radio station to a welcome center honoring Aretha.

"What we're after is a long term use of the the property. Things that have been mentioned are a possible radio station," explained West. "I think that's very interesting for this area and anything dealing with music and the kids at the Stax Music Academy. That organization has just blossomed."

"It could be a Soulsville Neighborhood Welcoming Center where people learn about Soulsville and you can that at the museum. I think it'd be a great place for young people to have access to song writing," Sampson said.

The main focus of the home would be not only on the life and music of Aretha, but also her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin.

He was a legendary preacher at New Salem Baptist Church and known as the man with the million dollar voice.

He was also a civil rights activist and close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The father had a church right down the street for a long time, C.L. Franklin," Sampson said.

"The groups will honor her father, as well. He graduated from LeMoyne-Owen and I think that will be a significant role for the house, as well. I'm hoping she(Aretha) can see it as a family educational program in this community so they can realize Aretha was born in Memphis," West said. "I think this will excite a lot of people."

"Everything I've heard and researched, this guy(Rev. Franklin) would put out albums of his sermons and these things would go gold! So, he was a very powerful preacher. So a lot of his beginnings were right here. So, we have to highlight it as part of music history in Memphis," Higgs said.

It's music history used to honor two Memphis legacies by showing a little respect to the house and community where the queen and her father once called home.

"It's all about quality of life," said Higgs. "How do we improve quality of life in these inner city neighborhoods? Not many inner city neighborhoods can boast a Stax Museum or the home of Aretha Franklin. She's the Queen of Soul. She's iconic. She's known worldwide and C.L. Frankliln was a powerful minister. We're not only trying to respect the house, but respect Miss. Franklin and her father's legacy. That's what this is all about."

Aretha Franklin will perform at the "Live in the Garden" concert series June 26 in Memphis.

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