Queen of Soul Continues Her Reign Aretha Franklin talks with Farai Chideya about her four-decade career of chart-topping music, her love of cooking, and her upcoming album.
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Queen of Soul Continues Her Reign

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Queen of Soul Continues Her Reign

Queen of Soul Continues Her Reign

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(Soundbite of song, "Since You've Been Gone")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) Baby, baby, sweet baby…


A few have tried to claim the title, but there's still only one queen of soul.

(Soundbite of song, "Since You've Been Gone")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I tell you that I'll stay true and give you just a little time. Wait on me, baby. I want you to be all mine. I just get so blue. Since you've been gone, baby.

CHIDEYA: Aretha Franklin is simply one of the greatest and most honored musicians ever. Her ability to pack every note with the heaviest kind of soul has made Ms. Franklin and her powerful voice legendary for more than half a century.

(Soundbite of song, "Think")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Freedom. Freedom. Freedom, Freedom. Oh, freedom. Hey, think about it. You, think about it.

CHIDEYA: Sister Aretha has had more number one R&B singles than anyone else. She's got 19 Grammys, making her the second most winningest female singer, and Ms. Franklin is the first woman to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

(Soundbite of song, "I Never Loved A Man")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I guess I'm uptight. And I'm stuck like glue. 'Cause I ain't never. I ain't never. I ain't never, no, no loved a man the way I loved you.

CHIDEYA: With two presidential medals and three honorary music doctorates, the Memphis native isn't about to slow down. She has a couple of tribute shows lined up and a new album due out soon.

Ms. Aretha Franklin, it is truly an honor to speak with you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Thank you. It is absolutely my pleasure. And with an introduction like that, I'm going to call you every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: We would love that. So first, let's talk about your new album. It's just about ready to come out. It's titled "A Woman Falling Out of Love." For a lot of your fans who are used to your songs being about falling in love, being in love, what did you mean by this title?

Ms. FRANKLIN: What I meant by that was, well, it's explanatory, and that was I fell in love, it didn't work, and I have been trying to get out of it without getting hurt too bad.

CHIDEYA: So it's not just about the album. You have a whole bunch of projects in play. You've got your own record label, big upcoming appearances. You know, you don't have to sing another note to take your place in history.

Ms. FRANKLIN: I don't?

CHIDEYA: You started making music and charming audiences decades ago. So why do you stay in the game performing and creating new work?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Because I love what I do. And like I've heard it said, and you get paid for it too. So you can't beat that combination.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby I Love You")

Ms. FRANKLIN: I love what I do and I wouldn't be doing anything else.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby I Love You")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) If you want my loving, if you really do, don't be afraid, baby. Just ask me. You know I'm gonna give it to you.

CHIDEYA: What gets you going when you - the difference between doing a show by yourself, which I want to talk about in a second, and doing something with a big cast? What different energy do you get from that?

Ms. FRANKLIN: I really like performing with other artists because usually I'm in concert by myself. And when I'm doing something with other artists, it gives me the opportunity to meet other artists that I like or would like to meet and just enjoy them up close and personal.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby I Love You")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) 'Cause I love you.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Baby, baby, baby, I love you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Baby, ain't no doubt about it. Baby, I love you.

Ms. FRANKLIN and Unidentified Group: (Singing) Baby, baby, baby, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you, baby, I love you.

CHIDEYA: Now, I saw you at the Apollo. You were doing a benefit for the Dance Theater of Harlem. It was one of the best shows I have ever seen of any type in my entire life.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: You were on fire. You sang old songs, new songs, blues songs, gospel songs. You can light up a stage. What made you want to do that concert as a benefit?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Well, Arthur Mitchell is a very good friend of mine. When I was interested in ballet some time ago, that was when I moved to New York first, I had a move that I was not able to get together going to the East Side Academy of Ballet. I just could not pull that move together. And I called Arthur. Arthur came down to my home and showed me the move. And about a minute and a half, I had it. It was just in the way that he explained it to me. And we've been friends ever since. The move was a glissade - glissade, pas de bourrie, assemble.

CHIDEYA: My goodness. So you have so many different skills. I also remember we met when you were coming on "Good Morning America" where I used to work and you were doing a cooking demonstration. What do you like about that other side of yourself that maybe not so many people see?

Ms. FRANKLIN: I love cooking. I just love to cook. I love to cook for my family, for my man, for my friends, for myself. I love to cook.

(Soundbite of song, "Daydreaming")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: But that's coming and going. I'm usually in and out with concerts so I don't get a lot of time to cook as much as I would like to. But sometimes I would take a four-burner on the bus. And we have great exhaust, have a custom bus, have great exhaust and I'll fix something for the bus. The last pot that I did on the bus was ox tail soup. And it was wonderful.

CHIDEYA: I bet you. And you…

Ms. FRANKLIN: Oh, it was good.

CHIDEYA: …you don't fly, so, you know, you have to be in love with that bus.

Ms. FRANKLIN: I do love the bus. I get a chance to really see America.

(Soundbite of song, "Daydreaming")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I'm loving him a little bit more each day. It turns me right on when I hear him say.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hey baby, let's get away, let's go somewhere far. Baby, can we?

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Well, I don't care.

CHIDEYA: I want to talk about a big project. You have been hard at work nailing together "From These Roots," a musical about your life story. It might head for the stage or the screen. First of all, which would you prefer? And secondly, what makes you want to do this at this point in time?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Well, I am in possession of certain knowledge concerning gospel greats having come along in the early '60s with my dad who is a - was a very nationally known minister, who has 38 volumes of sermons on the Chess Records label and I was a soloist with him. And I met and performed with all of the gospel greats and learned from many of them, particularly the Clara Ward singers who were sensational. And they're going to be a very big part of this tele-film that I am currently negotiating with a production company for one of the networks.

CHIDEYA: So it sounds like, right now, it's looking like broadcast television. Is that what you're saying?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Tele-film. And they're trying to decide whether or not it will be a three or four-night miniseries or whether or not it will be a two-night production, two hours nightly.

CHIDEYA: That sounds great.

Ms. FRANKLIN: And that's where we are.

(Soundbite of song, "How I Got Over")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) How I got over. How I got over. You know my soul looks back and wonder how I got over.

CHIDEYA: Now, the musical will have some people close to you in it, your father, your grandmother, Smokey Robinson. Who would you like to play your father, say?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Right now, in first position, it's Billy Dee. Billy Dee has the experience to play my father. He played Dr. King at one time and he has the physical makeup to play my dad. My dad was a very, very attractive man as Billie Dee is. And they have very similar physical aspects - the facial structure, the height, the body built, everything, with the exception of the preaching.

Reverend CLARENCE LaVAUGHN FRANKLIN (Aretha Franklin's Father): Join me, let's not insert too much time, and I'm - (unintelligible) going to play tonight.

Ms. FRANKLIN: And what we would do and what we will do in that instance is play my father's actual records. It would be a total injustice to ask anyone to try and do that.

Rev. FRANKLIN: (Singing) My glory.

Ms. FRANKLIN: And I just wanted to mention that I'm going to be in Atlanta on September 1st at Chastain Park. And I'll be in New York, September 18th at Radio City for the Dr. King tribute to put the monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., along with a number of other beautiful artists.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about that day.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Bebe and Cece and Queen Latifah and just a number of other artists would be there that night.

CHIDEYA: Now, there's also another one that has to deal with Althea Gibson. You've got Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carol Moseley-Braun.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Oh, yes. Uh-huh. And that's the U.S. Open coming up on September 27th out at the new Billie Jean King Tennis Center. And it is a tribute to Althea Gibson, yes, and African-American women of first - some that you just named, Jackie Joyner and Carol Moseley, Susan Depeth(ph). And I believe someone said I was in that group. I hope so.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FRANKLIN: But that's what it's about.

CHIDEYA: Why did you choose to participate in that concert as well?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Oh, I love the tennis community. I used to play. And I got a chance to swing the racket a lot. I haven't played in many years now because I'm always in concerts, but I love to go on the court.

CHIDEYA: All right then.

Ms. FRANKLIN: I love the ambience around the tennis community and just the general attitude, the easy attitude. I like that. Very sporty.

CHIDEYA: Before we let you go, I want you to tell me about a moment when you thought it's not worth it - if you've had one.

Ms. FRANKLIN: I never had that moment. I'm not going to have that moment.

CHIDEYA: What made you persevere and have the strength to say, I'm always going to be a singer, I'm always going to push for the best?

Ms. FRANKLIN: Because of my love for it and because perseverance is one of the first words I learned in elementary school. In, fact, it was the big word, was perseverance. And Ms. Aida B. Hooper(ph) taught us that word - perseverance.

CHIDEYA: Tell me about her.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Ms. Hooper - very strict but well-meaning lady. And she was really, really big on perseverance. She spelled it every way it could be spelled. And, of course, we knew it when we left her class. But with my love of the music, I really didn't need that. But it didn't hurt to have it.

(Soundbite of song, "I Say a Little Prayer For You")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Yeah.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Forever.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Forever.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) And ever.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Ever. Yeah.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) You'll stay in my heart and I will love you. Forever.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Forever.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) And ever.

Ms. FRANKLIN and Unidentified Group: (Singing) We never will part, oh, how I love you. Together…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Together.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Together.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Together.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) That's how it must be to live without you would only mean heartbreak for me.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Only for me.

CHIDEYA: Tell us what your definition of perseverance is.

Ms. FRANKLIN: That's it. You just keep going and you don't give it up. It's like JFK said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

CHIDEYA: Well, you can't put it much better than that. And we know that you were going to keep going.

Ms. Aretha Franklin, it has been an honor.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: All right.

Ms. FRANKLIN: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) What you want, baby, I got. What you need, do you know I got it? All I'm asking is for a little respect when you come home.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Hey, baby.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) When you come home.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Just a…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I ain't gonna do you wrong while you're gone. Ain't gonna do you wrong…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh(ph).

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) …'cause I don't wanna.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh(ph).

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) All I'm asking.


(Soundbite of credits)

CHIDEYA: To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. No spaces, just nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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