- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

David Whitehead wants to bring the many sides of singer Aretha Franklin into one performance. Mr. Whitehead, who teaches political science and comparative politics at Strayer University in Northwest, wrote the play "My Aretha," which premieres at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Bolling Air Force Base. At this point, the play is only open to those with military identification.
"My Aretha" features different actresses who represent Miss Franklin throughout the varying stages of her life. The play focuses on the importance of her relationship with her late father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin.
"When Aretha was a baby, he knew he had a star," Mr. Whitehead says. "He knew Aretha was special. After he passed away [in 1984], she had to search for another spiritual figure."
Mr. Whitehead, 44, of Oxon Hill says he is a fan of Miss Franklin's music and of her father's religious teachings. He believes that the spiritual themes of the play could help heal the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
"Reverend Franklin's message was to press on and fight for God and humanity," he says.
This is the second play Mr. Whitehead has written that is being staged. "The Big Bad Wolf vs. Miss Little Red Riding Hood: The Mike Tyson Story" was performed at Bolling Air Force Base and American University in 1996.
Briana Haymon, 12, of Clinton portrays Miss Franklin as a teen-ager. She is in sixth grade at James Ryder Randall Elementary School.
"I like Aretha's music," Briana says. "Recently, some of my friends and I did a karaoke dance to her song 'Respect.'"
Miss Franklin spent her youth singing gospel music while traveling with her father, who was a pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father was known as "the man with the million dollar voice" because of his fiery sermons. He also spoke out on civil rights issues and was a friend of Martin Luther King's. Miss Franklin often sang at their rallies.
Like Miss Franklin, Briana is learning to sing at church. She attends Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria. In the play, she sings "Oh Happy Day."
"Most of the time when I get up there, I'm confident," Briana says. "But sometimes when I start singing, I get nervous."
Angel de Jesus of Southwest plays Miss Franklin as a gospel singer. Mrs. de Jesus performs "God Will Take Care of You," "Precious Lord" and "Higher Mountain" during the show.
She says Miss Franklin, also known as "the queen of soul," has put her entire being into singing, whether she belts out hymns or rhythm and blues numbers. (Miss Franklin will perform July 22 at Wolf Trap in Vienna.)
"There [are] no rules when she [sings]," Mrs. de Jesus says. "She didn't need to study music. It [is] in her heart. There are a lot of people who go to school for years and years to get to her level. It [is] just in her spirit."
Sydney-Nicole, 23, of Northwest presents Miss Franklin as an adult. As the narrator of the show, she tells about Miss Franklin's difficulties in life, including two teen-age pregnancies, two failed marriages and allegations of alcohol abuse. Many of her fans are more familiar with glamorous images of the entertainer.
"I help you get into Aretha's head," Sydney-Nicole says. "I help you understand the woman behind the music. You're going to learn another side of Aretha."
During the play, Sherri Barbie of Temple Hills performs Miss Franklin's rhythm and blues songs, such as "Ain't No Way," "Angel," "A Rose Is Still a Rose," "Chain of Fools," "Spanish Harlem" and "Respect." Ms. Barbie admires Miss Franklin's versatility.
"I've been singing her songs since I was a toddler," Ms. Barbie says. "Even her 'Ave Maria' is powerful. She can sing all types of music."
Kelsey Collie, a retired theater arts professor from Howard University, directs "My Aretha." He says Miss Franklin's bond with her father steadied her through various phases of life. When Mr. Franklin was robbed in his home in Detroit in 1979, he was shot and lapsed into a coma until he died July 27, 1984. Mr. Collie believes this left a void in Miss Franklin's life.
"She found a replacement for her father through her music," he says. "Miss Franklin is a multifaceted personality."


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