Here’s why Aretha Franklin always carried her purse on stage

  • Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, passed away at 76 this week and had a policy of being paid in cash before her performances.
  • Franklin was never far from her handbag, which often joined her on stage for her performances.

The late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who passed away at 76 on Thursday was beloved by many worldwide. More than just the title of Queen, she had something in common with Queen Elizabeth—both were rarely spotted without their handbags.

While Aretha wasn’t using it to signal to her staff like Queen Elizabeth reportedly does, there was a purpose behind why she was always on stage, purse in hand.

When Glenn Weiss worked with Franklin on the 2015 Kennedy Center honors, he was definitely aware of the purse. “She always walks onstage with her purse,” he told the New York Times. “When we were in rehearsals, she walks out and puts it on the piano. When she walks downstage, she picks it up and puts it on the floor.”

Weiss, who produced and directed the 2015 event, told the story of how her purse played a part in the show’s rehearsal. “The show ends with everyone in the tribute downstage singing “I Feel the Earth Move.” In rehearsal, there’s a line of people in street clothes — her, James Taylor, Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monáe — and this one bag sitting in the middle of the stage. When we finished the song, James Taylor leaned over to pick up the bag and hand it to her, being a gentleman, and reflexively she almost pushed him away.”

Weiss wasn’t the only one to notice that the Queen of Soul was never far from her purse. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, took note of it during a 2016 performance — and also revealed why she was so scrupulous about her handbag. 

“She collects on the spot or she does not sing. The cash goes into her handbag and the handbag either stays with her security team or goes out onstage and resides, within eyeshot, on the piano,” Remnick explained.

Franklin left behind a fortune of $80 million, but often insisted on being paid in cash for her performances. The reasoning, explained Franklin’s friend, television host and author Tavis Smiley to Remnick, dated back to a darker time American history where many black artists were underpaid or not paid at all for their performances.

“The purse thing has a long history: she keeps her purse with her at all times. She’s got her money, she’s ready to move, to go wherever she needs to be,” Rickey Minor, musical director  of the Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony told the Times.

“It’s the era she grew up in — she saw so many people, like Ray Charles and B. B. King, get ripped off,” Smiley told The New Yorker. “There is the sense in her very often that people are out to harm you. And she won’t have it. You are not going to disrespect her.”

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