Just over two months back, RFT Music published an article
on musician and bandleader Andrew Franklin. His body was riddled by cancer (and its treatments) and he was open in saying that “several times, I've wanted to give up. Not to the point of calling someone. But music's a healing force, the most positive weapon on the planet. And there's a science we can't see: the care we have for each other as humans. So I have to at least try." And with grace and tenacity, try he did.
With family present on Friday, July 15, Franklin succumbed to the effects of a year-plus battle with both lung and bile duct cancers, the latter of which proved the more-insidious, lasting enemy. A fireman by trade, on a lengthy sabbatical from his post with the Spanish Lake Fire Department, he would’ve turned 30 on September 11.
During the months away from work, music was still central to his life, and he’d begun a new act, Sugar Kings, alongside his rhythm section partner Gabe Bonfili, sax player Jacob Johnson and guitarist Zach Arias; respectfully working around their songwriter’s chemo treatments and subsequent exhaustion, the band wrote, recorded and planned gigs.
His longtime girlfriend Jessica Bellomo says, “He died at home, just after 7 a.m. I spent the night lying next to him; when I left the room in the morning, he died with my dad next to him, right at the time he'd be heading home from a shift at the firehouse. He was upset to cancel a gig in June and wanted to keep playing. He never gave up and fought ‘til the end. I made sure to have Madlib and Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing all night and into the morning for him. His life was music, and he taught me, and everyone around him, how music is the answer to all the world’s problems, so it seemed only right to surround him with music toward the end. He proposed to me a few weeks ago and his family brought us rings last night. We didn't get the chance to get married, but after six years together he always told everyone to treat me like his wife, and I think the rings helped him find peace, too.”
Not even including his childhood, his years as a high school athlete in University City or his decade in the world of firefighting, Franklin's time in the local music scene alone earned him countless friends. Even as the news was sinking in on Friday, several members of that community responded to a quick question, asking them to detail a memory or two.
Despite this “hitting me pretty hard,” Darian Wigfall notes, “That was my guy, man. Even though we didn't see each other often because he was busy, and so am I, we always would call each other ‘brother’ when we would meet up with friends for music or drinks.”
Recently, Wigfall and Franklin were out, joined by keyboardist Jesse James Gannon and a pair of Franklin’s fellow bassists, Teddy Brookins and Donald Williams.
Williams says, “A few times during the course of the evening, it crossed my mind that there was a very good chance I might not get to hang out with him again, that his family, girlfriend and close friends might soon lose him. I don’t know if the others noticed when, for a few minutes here and there, I would withdraw from our ridiculous conversations to watch Andrew. I just sat back and watched him tell his stories, crack his jokes, enjoy himself and enjoy our company. I thought about how good it felt to help make him happy, to see him smile. And then I thought: That’s exactly how he always made us feel.”
Franklin is survived by his parents Cynthia and Roger; a sister, Lynzi; and a brother, Alex.
Bellomo notes that Franklin’s wish, and it’s not a recent one, was that his memory be wrapped in happiness by those who knew him, rather than being enveloped in sadness.
She says, “He told me years ago, long before he was diagnosed, that when he died, to make sure that everyone celebrated his life by partying, dancing and playing good music and not to cry and mourn him. I'm sure he'd want everyone to know that now.”
[An earlier version of this story misidentified Franklin's place of employment as the St. Louis City Fire Department instead of the Spanish Lake Fire Department. The story has been updated. We regret the error.]