RIP Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin loved Milton Butterball Smith. He used to cook for her and bring her food at 495 SE 10th Ct in Hialeah, at a warehouse with a piano that she used to wail on, out of heartbreak, in 20,000 square feet filled with records, the hundred Cubans loading and shipping them, promoters, secretaries, accountants, songwriters, and Florida distributor Henry Stone.

He had a studio in his back pocket, but out of respect for Jerry Wexler, he never recorded her. But wow, she could sure sing, man.

The place was TK Productions. The time was the 1970’s.

She was staying at the Hampton House in Brownsville. A jazz motel owned by the Markowitzes; who created a touring destination with an epic house band for top entertainers visiting Miami, locals looking to party, and Magic City tourists. It’s where Cassius Clay met Malcolm X and became Muhammad Ali. Aretha loved the place.

via Miami Times – Miami Dade Library Collection

Aretha had a long history with Miami. As you can see from this 1958 newspaper clipping “Aretha Franklin of Detroit, Mich” sang gospel in the Northwestern High School auditorium in Miami’s Historic Liberty City with her father Reverend C.L. Franklin’s traveling revue. Her name appeared in prominent advertising in the Miami Times, one of the longest running continually published African-American newspapers in the country.

She also performed in Miami’s Historic Overtown at the Knight Beat club in the Sir John Hotel.

At the time, Henry Stone was distributing gospel records. Independent distributors were the thirty or so regional entrepreneurs who sold records in bulk to jukebox owners, and got songs played on the radio to promote them. In an era preceding the Civil Rights Act, those who dealt in Gospel and R&B music were more often allies than adversaries. Those who fell by the wayside were bad operators. Those who prospered over decades had long term relationships built on trust and money. Artists were friendly with distributors because they had the direct link to the airwaves.

In a 2013 interview, Henry Stone told writer Jacob Katel, “Aretha used to love to come down to Miami. I remember one time in the 70s she came down here and she was goin’ through a hard time. I don’t know if it was some guy had broke her heart or what, but she had it bad. She came down to Miami and stayed down at the Hampton House on NW 27th Ave in Brownsville, far away from everythin so she could cool her head.

She loved Butterball. And he loved cooking for her. He’d make her big old fried chickens and BBQ ribs, his specialty. Butterball was a radio DJ, but in the 70s he came and joined the TK organization.

Whenever Aretha came into town she would usually stop by and I got to know her a little bit.

Well, I had an 8 track studio up above my office where I cut “Cleanup Woman,” “Funky Nassau,” “Rock Your Baby” and all that stuff. I sold millions of records off a little 8 track board. And right outside my office I had a piano.

Well this one time I was talking about, Aretha was coming over to TK from the Hampton House just about everyday. She used to come up around 11a.m. or noon cause it wasn’t too far a drive. Butterball would bring her over and she’d just sit at the piano I had outside my office and just fuckin’ groove.

I never recorded her because of Jerry Wexler. But if I had put down on tape what she was doing, I’d have ten million dollars in my pocket right now. She had a helluva voice.

Well one morning I didn’t show up at my usual hours cause I was out takin care of business and when i got there she was out in the parking lot screaming “Where is that motherfucker Henry Stone!?!” She was screaming, she was crying until I finally let her in and she sat down at the piano and just started pouring out her soul.

Gives me chills just thinking about it. I wanted to record her so bad, but I didn’t.

And Butterball cooked for her all day long that day. And she could eat let me tell ya. She could eat about as well as she sang.”


©Jacob Katel and ©Henry Stone Music USA Inc. All Rights Reserved.

©HenryStoneMusic USA Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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