Black notables from all over the country gathered in Los Angeles Sunday night to celebrate the marriage of the Queen of Soul and her Minstrel Man.
The occasion was the wedding reception at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for Aretha Franklin, the premier gospel and blues singer of the decade, and actor Glynn Turman, the star of the highly acclaimed TV movie "Minstrel Man." Among the 600 guests were singers Smokey Robinson and Minnie Ripperton, actors Billy Dee Williams and Raymond St. Jacques and TV stars Denise Nicholas of "Baby I'm Back," LeVar Burton of "Roots," Ron Glass of "Barney Miller," and J'nai DuBois of "Good Times." Mayor Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles and Lt. Gov. George Brown of Colorado also attended.
Less well-known to the guests, but equally prominent at the celebrity party, was caterer Milton Williams, one of the most sought-after in the country, who coordinated the affair. Although Williams is also black, this was the first time in 25 years of catering he had been hired by blacks for a major party.
The Turmans were married last Tuesday in Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church. The wedding reception originally was scheduled for Saturday afternoon in the garden of Franklin's San Fernando Valley home, but rain caused the couple to shift it to Sunday and the Hilton's crystal-chandeliered International Ballroom.
Franklin was dressed in a tight-fitting, white-beaded gown and Turman wore a black suit, white ruffled shirt, black velvet tie, and his habitual gray Stetson. Franklin, who rarely grants press interviews and has made few personal appearances in recent years, seemed uncomfortable among the flahbulbs and reports. But Turman appeared to be delighted. 'If you're going to throw a party, you might as well do it big," he laughed.
The couple slowly made their way through the throng of well-wishers - many had flown in from New York and Detroit for the event. They were joined at their table on the ballroom floor by Bradley and his wife. The mayor presented them with an engraved proclamation from the City of Los Angeles. "The whole world loves Aretha" said the mayor of the woman who sang "Impossible Dream" at his inauguration.
While photographers and a videotape crew recorded the mayor's presentation, Milton Williams supervised the food and bar. Wearing a black velvet jacket and marching fez adorned with purple feathers, Williams followed by his personal photographer, moved back and forth between the kitchen and his three exquisite buffet tables.
"My job is to alleviate the hostess of any obligation," he said. "All she has to do is give me a guest list and a check. I take care of all the rest, even the aspirin and hand cream in the powder room."
Although it is unusual for hotels to allow caterers to enter their kitchens, Williams said that the Hilton made an exception in his case. For the reception he prepared three kinds of cuisine - Moroccan, French and soul food. The Moroccan food, served by women in authentic dress, included tabulla, humus, stuffed grape leaves and pigeon pie.The French table offered, among its many dishes, steak tartare, artichoke hearts, smoked salmon in mounds of shrimps and pate. The soul food ranged from barbecued pig feet to chitlins and black-eyed-peas.
"I may not always have impeccable taste," said Williams, who has catered affairs all over the country, including Washington, "but I do give people something to eat when they come to a party. I went to a party in Georgetown once. It was dear, it was sweet, but it looked like a ladies' aid society in a Baptist Church. The days of cumber sandwiches are over."
When Williams gives a party he generally takes charge of entertainment too, but Franklin chose the performers for her reception. The 35-piece Eric Page Orchestra, dressed in white tuxedos, provided disco music from the Hilton stage. An array of singers and dancers followed, including a group of white square dancers and a black Las Vegas dance troop, dressed in feathered and sequined costumes. Most of the entertainers were unknown, even to the record producers and musicians in the auidience, but were friends to whom Franklin was giving public exposure.
Williams, standing near the bar, shook his head at the pace of the show. "Look at this lull," he said at a break between acts. "When I run the entertainment, there are never any lulls.You have to keep everthing moving, everything up. At my parties everyone comes out high. But not from what they've been drinking."
Franklin and Turnman did not seem to mind the lulls. They spent most of the evening at their table receiving coungratulation from friends and family. "Look at her face," gushed her friend, actress J'nai DuBois. "She's alive, she's in love.
It was the singer's second marriage and her husband's third. Franklin, who is 36, has four children from her previous marriage and Turman has three from his.
Although some of the guests like Mayor Bradley left early, many ligered through the evening hoping that Stevie Wonder might make a late apperance. By 12:45, when he had not yet arrived, the Turmans cut their five-tiered wedding cake, which had been designed to release 35 doves in Franklin's garden.In the hotel the doves remained in cages at the entrance to the ballroom.
"The party was a little more staid, a little more laid back in the hotel, than it would have been at Aretha'" said one friend. "But the important thing is everyone has come here to honor her artistry and celebrate her marriage. Look at the cross section of people here, black, white, celebrities, ordinary people, every segment of society."
"The only reason I'm here is because of Aretha," said Lt. Gov. Brown of Colorado, an old friend who had flown in from Denver for the weekend. "I feel like she's a member of my family. The extended family is something that has always been important to black people. I think we're going to do more and more things as a family around the country. When something good happens to one, all of us rejoice."