After Aretha Franklin passed away last week, music enthusiast LeRoy McCarthy got right to work honoring her legacy.
Just hours after the news broke, the 50-year-old location manager got together with a street artist friend to add a temporary tribute to the Queen of Soul in the Franklin Avenue subway station in Brooklyn: On every “Franklin” sign they could find, they stenciled the name “Aretha” nearby in hot pink sprayable chalk.
Brooklyn County of Kings paying R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the #QueenofSoul Aretha Franklin with temporary street art @BPEricAdams @RobertCornegyJr @cmlauriecumbo @TishJames @RepJeffries @RepYvetteClarke @News12BK @NY1 @bklyner @TIDAL @Daydog @LondellMcMillan @Essence @TheRoot @BKStreetArt pic.twitter.com/asj8v13mGM— Chris Wallace Way BK (@CWWayBK) August 16, 2018
McCarthy was pleased with the results; lots of people shared the image of the stencil on social media before MTA workers removed the “Aretha” lettering the next day. “It lasted long enough to make an impression,” he says.
But now, he wants to create a more permanent tribute to the late, legendary soul singer with a large mural depicting the most memorable refrain of her most famous song—“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”—on the side of the Brooklyn subway station bearing her last name. (It’s not the first time he’s proposed a memorial for a music legend in the city; he was behind efforts to name streets for Notorious B.I.G. in Clinton Hill, for Phife Dawg in Queens and for the Beastie Boys in the Lower East Side, among others.)
McCarthy shared an image of his latest concept on Twitter, showing large black lettering on a blank wall just south of Fulton Street on the west side of Franklin Avenue, a busy intersection where multiple bus lines cross near the subway station (where the A, C, and Franklin Avenue shuttle stop). McCarthy said he hopes the word will be “significant in more ways than one.”
“Some people will make the instant connection of Aretha Franklin, but the word respect is something … that transfers to the community,” he says. “It transfers to police officers, it transfers to drivers and bicyclists. A lot of eyes will be on that.”
McCarthy has already taken the first step by contacting the MTA about the project; he says spokesman Jon Weinstein put him in touch with the authority’s MTA Arts & Design department, which is responsible for public art within the subway system.
“We’re in discussions with the community, and as everyone does, we have ever-lasting respect for Aretha—so we’ll work something out to honor her legacy,” Weinstein said in a statement.
McCarthy hopes the MTA accepts the proposal, which could be a positive message for the authority, especially now. “There’s so much that goes back and forth between the MTA and the public,” he says. “Respect from both parties would be a good word to share.”