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Arts & Culture

Local musician Herb Smith remembers performing with Aretha Franklin

Rochester Institute of Technology

The death of singer Aretha Franklin has touched a lot of people, including a Rochester musician who actually played as backup with her in three concerts in Buffalo and Rochester.

Herb Smith plays trumpet both with the RPO and with his own jazz trio. He is also an adjunct professor at RIT and is conductor of the RIT Jazz Ensembles. Smith says Franklin really was a pioneer in a lot of ways.

“She opened doors for African Americans in America, she just opened doors,' he says. "She brought that gospel sound into the secular world that hadn’t heretofore been heard.”

Smith says that Franklin was all business when she met up with the musicians.

“She’s doing it because she loves the music, obviously, but it’s kind of like, okay, you guys got to make sure you’ve got this right," Smith says, "and so she didn’t really rehearse with us at first, it was her music director that conducts and directs  the musicians, especially the local musicians that he picks up.”

Smith says his father was big fan of Aretha Franklin and as much as his dad was proud of his accomplishments in classical music, it was a big thrill for him when his son played backup for Aretha.

“For me to play in the classical world and play with classical musicians, and play with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, my dad was very proud of me," he says, "but to actually get a chance to play with Aretha Franklin, someone that he grew up (with), someone that he listened to on the radio, it was just really a sense of pride for my dad.”

Smith says Aretha Franklin really transcended being a performer, since her music and her activities were an important part of the civil rights movement.

“She really was melded in with the Civil Rights movement too…it goes beyond music, she opened doors for African Americans across genres," Smith says.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
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