Aretha Franklin considered Anne Shirley somewhat of a kindred spirit, and was quoted saying Anne of Green Gables was one of her "favourite things."
"She's such a can-do kind of girl, that's why I'm crazy about her," Franklin told Toronto Star reporter Richard Ouzounian during an interview in 2014.
Writer and author Evelyn White said she was surprised to see that comment — and said she has always wanted to know more about how Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, came to know about the books and characters.
"We never heard of Anne of Green Gables, it was just not on the radar of young black girls of my generation," she said. "Aretha is a decade or so older than I am, so I'm thinking how could she possibly have crossed paths with this novel."
White said she had tried to contact Franklin — who was notoriously private about her personal life — to find out, but was unsuccessful. Franklin died Thursday of advanced pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.
"We'll never know."
'Both motherless girls'
While White was never able to ask Franklin herself, she has some theories about what connected the two. She delivered a lecture at the L.M. Montgomery Institute's conference this past summer titled Anne and Aretha: A Harmonious Bond.
"I think that the harmonious bond had to do with them both being motherless girls," White said, adding Franklin's mother left when she was about six.
She also feels there is another hint in Franklin's quote about Anne being a "can-do girl."
"I think that she related to Anne Shirley on that level that regardless of the hardships … she just sort of trudged on in her own authentic, original self," she said.
Invited to P.E.I.
During the 2014 interview, Franklin asked Ouzounian to point her in the direction of P.E.I.
"I just think I'd like to see the place they all came from," she said of L.M. Montgomery's characters.
Following that interview, then-premier Robert Ghiz extended a personal invitation to Franklin to visit P.E.I., but it doesn't appear she was ever able to take him up on it.
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With files from Kerry Campbell