Abdul “Duke” Fakir said he stopped going to funerals in recent years because he has lost so many close friends and he can’t take any more. But the lone surviving original member of the Four Tops said he won’t miss the chance to pay his final respects next week to his “Baby Sis,” Aretha Franklin.
“I’ll be at that one,” Fakir told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “That’s ’cause she’s a sister. She’s family. I’ll be there.”
Fakir plans to attend the private funeral Aug. 31 at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple, which caps days of high-profile memorials to the Queen of Soul. Public viewings will take place Aug. 28-29 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Fakir, interviewed at the Motown Museum in the former studio where his group recorded many of their 1960s hits, said he has been “in mourning” like many across the world since Franklin died last Thursday in the city she long called home. But her death hits particularly close to home given their history: The Four Tops toured and recorded with Franklin several times over the decades, and they remained close until the end of her life.
He recalled a phone conversation with Franklin just days before her death. He was cautioned by a family representative that she was unresponsive — “not really saying anything.”
“So, I was … telling her how much I missed seeing her, not being there by her side. And they said her eyes opened, and she said, ‘Bernadette.’ And that was the last word she ever said, they said,” Fakir recalled. “That was her favorite song by the Tops, by the way, ‘Bernadette.’ So, to have been on her lips, the last word she said. That’s more than honorable. That’s precious, you know?”
Fakir, 82, who still regularly performs with the Four Tops, said their friendship deepened as they aged. She often referred to the members of his group as her “brothers,” — and he likewise called her “sis” — but he added “baby” to the nickname in recent years, “especially after the other three Tops had passed.”
About a year ago, he said, she wanted to know why.
“She said, ‘Duke, look here — why do you keep calling me ‘Baby Sis?’ Don’t you know I’m 76 years old?” Fakir said. “I said, ‘That’s why I call you Baby Sis: I got you by six years, girl!'”
Fakir said his group looked forward to every opportunity to record or perform with Franklin, whether it was on home turf in Detroit, at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts or New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. Despite their close friendship, he never stopped marveling at her musicianship — and in his grief, he’s holding on to that.
“She’s definitely the best because all her music comes from (the heart) and it travels all the way through and it touches all those parts of her that suffer or did not suffer, or happiness or whatever,” Fakir said. “And she lets it out, she tells the whole story and you feel it. You know what the story is about.”