House Is Not a Home 

Museum plans in place for Aretha Franklin's childhood home.

With its ceiling illuminated by scattered holes from a 2009 fire, the bedroom on the second floor of 406 Lucy Avenue in South Memphis doesn't look like it had been home to a queen.

But, indeed, this was where the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin laid her head for her first three years of life.

"This is the room she was born in," said Herb Jackson, director of development for the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Foundation, as we enter the charred bedroom.

Franklin's childhood home is slated to become a museum in her honor, and Jackson's R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Foundation is behind the project. Jackson said though there's much work to do, big things are in store for the property.

"I believe it's a great project, probably one of the biggest things to hit Memphis in a long time," Jackson said.

While still in the early planning stages, the home's restoration is the first thing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. plans to address.

"We're going to restore this to as close to the original state as possible. We don't want to move it because we'll lose a lot of it in translation, considering the age and condition of the house. So we're going to keep it right where it is and build around it," Jackson said.

The home is currently owned by Memphian Vera Lee House, and she was in the process of fixing the place up to become a tourist attraction before fire struck in 2009. Now, Jackson's R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Foundation, which is currently fund-raising for the project, is stepping in to help.

Their multi-million dollar plan includes two additional facilities across the street and next door to Franklin's home, which will house a community center, coffee shop, an exhibit displaying a timeline of Franklin's life, a gift shop, and the C. L. Franklin Memorial Chapel dedicated to Aretha's father, a Baptist minister in Memphis before they moved to Detroit. The museum also will offer music and arts education classes for kids.

"You might look at this as an economic revitalization tool for this community, and at some point in time, we plan to expand further down [Lucy]. It's kind of long-range but definitely doable," Jackson said.

The neighborhood around Franklin's childhood home has deteriorated over the years. But Jackson said the museum project has inspired a few residents to fix up their homes.

"We planned this center as a beacon of hope for the community, and they're definitely enthusiastic about the project," Jackson said. "We're getting calls from some of the neighbors, who have already started working on their properties. We've done some inspiring and encouraging."

There's no projected completion date for the museum, but Jackson said he hopes to have it open by the spring of 2013, around Franklin's 71st birthday. He said the project has Franklin's blessing.

"Aretha's worthy of this honor," Jackson said. "She's won 18 Grammys. She was the youngest person to be honored at the Kennedy Center. She's had 45 Top 40 singles since 1965. We think she's more than deserving."


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