Aretha Franklin Was Determined To Get 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' Right Franklin performed at President Obama's inauguration in 2009, but she wasn't happy with the final results.
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Aretha Franklin Was Determined To Get 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' Right

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Aretha Franklin Was Determined To Get 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' Right

Aretha Franklin Was Determined To Get 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' Right

Aretha Franklin Was Determined To Get 'My Country, 'Tis of Thee' Right

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102039383/102039371" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Aretha Franklin performs at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images hide caption

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ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin performs at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama.

ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin performed "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009. By that time, the Queen of Soul had sung at many other presidential celebrations, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton. But on that day in 2009, she was not happy with the final results. So Franklin went to the music studio as fast as she could to record another version — one she could be proud of.

In this interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Franklin explains how she responded to the invitation to perform on inauguration day and how she recaptured the emotion for the studio recording.


Michel Martin: When did you find out you would be singing at the inauguration? What was that like?

Aretha Franklin: Oh my God! It was like ... Oh, my God. [Laughs] Maybe about three weeks prior to the inauguration, I got a call and was told that I had been invited to sing at the swearing in. Oh my God, oh my God.

You sound like you were excited. You were as excited as we were.

I couldn't hardly sleep at night. I was, like, jumping, just excited, and I couldn't hardly settle down after the first night or two.

Why was it so exciting for you? You've had many, many honors in your time.

I've had many, many honors, but that was unparalleled, I think. That would only happen one time in history and it happened.

Was it just the fact of speaking at an inauguration or this inauguration?

They both would've been terrifically exciting, but particularly because this was so historical, and because it will never happen again. And I thank God and Mr. Obama that I was there and played a significant role in it, a supporting role.

I hope this isn't a ridiculous question, but I have to ask, were you nervous?

No, I wasn't nervous. I was very, very cold, extremely cold. I had been checking the temperatures long before I left home. I said, 'Well, OK that should be OK. I know it's outside, and I rarely sing outside, but I think that'll be OK.' Checking the national weather, they were saying 37 is the average temperature in D.C. at that time of year on that day, somewhere between 37 and 40. I said 'OK, that sounds pretty good. I think that'll be alright.'

And I got up that morning, checked the weather one more time. It was 19 degrees. I said, 'Oh no! Oh no.' I knew how cold that was going to be, and I thought that it would have an effect on my voice, and it did.

I wanted to ask you that, did you make any special preparations to warm up your voice or how did you try to protect your voice?

I did everything I could to guarantee my voice would be where I wanted it to be and where it should've been, but Mother Nature just said, 'I don't think so.'

I got so many requests, though, even still, so many requests after that asking would I record it, was I going to record it. And I said, 'Absolutely,' because I just wasn't happy with my performance that morning. And I just rushed right in the studio to do the commemorative. And 40, 50 years from now, people can play it for themselves - the younger adults and older for their grandchildren, their children's children, and look back at that one moment in time.