In memory of beloved DC jazz drummer Howard ‘Kingfish’ Franklin who lost to COVID: NPR

In memory of beloved DC jazz drummer Howard ‘Kingfish’ Franklin who lost to COVID: NPR

Howard “Kingfish” Franklin was a popular figure on the Washington, DC jazz scene. He died of COVID-19 this year.


For the past year and a half, we’ve thought of some of the 750,000+ people who died of COVID-19 in the United States, and we’ve asked you to share your stories with us.


Today we remember Howard “Kingfish” Franklin. He died in August at the age of 51. His daughter, Naki Franklin, a Washington native who was known for his jazz drumming skills, said he loves music more than anyone she has ever met.


NAKI FRANKLIN: When my father was a kid, he worked in a deli, a local deli. So he collected a few different, random buckets that they had around the deli, used duct tape, and built (ph) his own drums, like buckets and duct tape.

KELLY: Every week he took his paycheck to the music store to pay for a drum he’d put aside.

FRANKLIN: After giving them enough paychecks, he took the cab there and then got the drums. And then he called my grandmother to pick him up with the drums. She said she would, but the next thing she knew was that he pulled up in a cab at home with the drums because he just couldn’t wait.

CORNISH: Jazz gave Howard Franklin its nickname Kingfish, which is often shortened to Fish in DC jazz circles. While he was graduating from the University of the District of Columbia with a jazz degree, his mentor Calvin Jones named him after a character from the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show.

FRANKLIN: I think he had a strong personality and my father had a strong personality. I am a rule believer. I am calm, introverted. My father is like the complete opposite. He was very loud and extroverted. He loved being around people. And of course he was a rule breaker (laughter). You know, it was kind of funny that we are father and daughter.

KELLY: Nothing illustrates this better than a moment on Naki’s 16th birthday.

FRANKLIN: I was just, you know, my history class, high school, and just another day. None of my classmates knew it was my birthday, you know? And he just bursts into the room, interrupting the whole history lesson. And of course we didn’t learn anything in this class. And he sang for me all for my birthday and brought cupcakes with him. Yes, it was so embarrassing, but it was also very funny.

CORNISH: He’s kept that energetic spirit all his life. But in early August, when Franklin was in New Jersey, he felt sick and a test showed it was COVID-19.

FRANKLIN: The disease accelerated very quickly. I believe he was intubated on August 17th and he died on August 18th. So it all happened very quickly. Grief is wild because it’s just the smallest things that make you feel sad or trigger those emotions. For example, just texting him, a song from Apple Music that I just heard, or he ordered me a new auto part for my car last year. And somehow I’ll have to do that myself in the future.

KELLY: Naki Franklin, who plans to write for television after graduating this year, says she will always be inspired by her father’s passion for music and life and his desire to get better and better at what he loved .

FRANKLIN: I’ve always seen him as super extremely self-confident and just plain fearless. He would introduce himself to anyone. He could talk to anyone. But I learned shortly after he died that he actually got nervous when he met jazz musicians he admired and all. That was the only time he got nervous. He was always looking for improvements to the drums and stuff. That inspired me while writing to just focus and always look for ways to improve. It’s okay if I’m a little nervous at times too.


KELLY: Howard “Kingfish” Franklin – he died of COVID-19 in August at the age of 51.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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