Saturday memorial for Earline Franklin, Aretha’s sister-in-law

If you’ve spent any time around Earline Franklin, you can’t miss the energy.

The longtime Detroit resident, who had just turned 82 when she died Nov. 9, was gregarious and well-connected — but with a no-nonsense bravado that served her well as she navigated a long career in the entertainment industry.

A public memorial service for Franklin will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Triumph Church, 2760 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit. (Family Hour begins at 10:30 a.m.) The event will feature performances by singer Brenda Corbett and bassist Ralph Armstrong, along with remarks by people close to the family.

“And because my mom was all about life, we would have what they would call a dinner, but what we consider a party,” said Crystal Franklin, Earline’s daughter.

As Aretha Franklin’s sister-in-law, Earline worked closely with the Queen of Soul, often hitting the road as something of a personal assistant. A resident of Detroit’s Riverfront Towers, she became a regular caretaker when the ailing singer moved into the downtown complex before her death in 2018. Among her tasks: making Aretha’s daily morning smoothie.

“It was a sisterhood, a friendship, a business relationship,” Crystal Franklin said. “She filled many roles in Aretha’s life.”

Earline Franklin learned the ropes of show business after her 1971 marriage to Cecil Franklin, Aretha’s brother and longtime manager. While they were together, Earline devoted herself largely to motherhood; after his death in 1989, she began forging her own path in the music business and by 1996 had established the firm Entertainment’s Finest & Associates.

Armed with her people skills, business acumen and connections to the Franklin family, she became a prominent figure on the Detroit scene, managing artists and promoting shows in Michigan and beyond, including events featuring artists such as Freddie Jackson, Ashford and Simpson, Roy Ayers, Angela Bofill and others.

She also helped organize events for companies like DTE Energy and Xfinity. A born networker, Franklin continued to work until his death, connecting artists with promoters and projects.

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“My mom was the super connection with everybody,” Crystal Franklin said.

She also went on to manage several acts, including a Dutch singer she was due to visit this month in Amsterdam.

“I just admired her spirit,” said her niece, Sabrina Owens. “She had a constitution and a work ethic that was incredible. If there was something she wanted to do, she was unstoppable. Even at her age, she still worked and loved what she did.

Although she moved to West Palm Beach a few years ago, Franklin remained a familiar sight in Detroit, spending summers here and working closely behind the scenes with Shahida Mausi, operator of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater on the Detroit River.

Following Aretha Franklin’s death in August 2018, Earline Franklin and Mausey collaborated to produce the world-viewed tribute concert at the venue (then Chene Park Amphitheater) the night before the Queen of Soul’s funeral.

Owens, who was then in charge of the estate and funeral planning, recalls enlisting them for the concert production.

“I told them, ‘I trust you to do what you’re doing. And they did great,” Owens said.

Before her death, Earlene Franklin had begun pre-production work on a planned 2024 concert called “All the Queen’s Men,” a tribute to Aretha, possibly featuring male singers such as Keith Washington.

Born and raised in Washington, she moved to Detroit after her marriage to Cecil and quickly became a cornerstone of the Franklin family. Her work ethic and creative instincts are already there: she trained in ballet for 12 years at DC’s Jones-Haywood School of Dance and studied modeling and singing.

Franklin’s passing followed a fall at her home in Florida in October. While recovering, doctors discovered cancer that had spread to much of her body, and she died less than two weeks after the diagnosis.

“She was just living an active life, not knowing that something like this was on the horizon,” Crystal Franklin said.

Along with Saturday’s memorial event, Earline Franklin will be honored next summer at the Aretha Amphitheater with a Celebration of Life at a date to be announced.

Franklin is survived by her daughter, Crystal Franklin; two granddaughters, Mashon Clark and Brooklyn Hardiman; her sisters, Jeannine Graham, Robin Graham and Linda Lou McCall; and many nieces and nephews.

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