TONY COX, host:
Here's another listener favorite from 2008.
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Now, we've got some holiday cheer, soulful cheer. For many of us, there's nothing that puts you in a spirit like Christmas music. You've got the classics from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, the comedy of The Chipmunks. But you have never had Aretha Franklin until now. The new album this Christmas, Aretha, features classics and contemporary songs, infused with Ms. Franklin's trademark R & B, soul, and gospel styles.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) I'm a winner, can I get a win (unintelligible) Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, get a win I'm a winner, can I get a win (unintelligible) Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, Can I, get a (unintelligible). Christmas just ain't Christmas without the one you love...
CHIDEYA: I got a chance to talk to the Queen of Soul about one of her favorite passions - that's cooking - and her new foray into holiday music.
Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): Christmas is so special for so many reasons. Each time it comes around, you hear very, very little on me. I'm not in the mix. And it's such a special time, as I said. But you know, get the picture of this. Snow is softly falling. You got a nice warm fire going. Maybe you're holding hands with your sweetie next to the fire. Or maybe you got a lot of good pots on the stove in the kitchen and all of that - you know, the good smells are wafting through the house, and the bells ringing, people are gift-giving, and the music is going, and there's nothing on Aretha, please. Uh-uh, I got to record some Christmas music.
CHIDEYA: So, what's your favorite song on this? I mean, I personally...
Ms. FRANKLIN: My favorite song - the whole album is my favorite. But my really, really, really favorite one is "The Lord Will Make A Way" and "Angels We Have Heard On High."
(Soundbite of song "Angels We Have Heard On High")
Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing)
Gloria, in Excelsis Deo Gloria, in Excelsis Deo Gloria, in Excelsis Deo
CHIDEYA: All right, couple of other things. You were named number one vocalist of the rock era by Rolling Stone magazine.
Ms. FRANKLIN: I heard that…
CHIDEYA: How does that make you feel?
Ms. FRANKLIN: Oh, please. If I'm not careful, I might not be able to get out the doorway. My head might get caught in the doorway.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FRANKLIN: It's a tremendous honor, it really is. And I am most appreciative for it.
CHIDEYA: It sounds like you don't, but do you ever get blase about all the things that you've done, and all the times people tell you that they love your work and that kind of appreciation, either from critics or from fans?
Ms. FRANKLIN: Oh, absolutely not. It's - that's a good thing, and I'm delighted to hear it all the time. It's when you don't hear it there's a problem. So, I'm delighted to hear it all the time. It's a continuing acknowledgment of my work, and that means an awful lot to me.
CHIDEYA: I admit that I'm a huge holiday fan, and I come from a family with a lot of serious traditions and also people who are serious cooks.
Ms. FRANKLIN: Yes, so am I.
CHIDEYA: And you are a serious cook...
Ms. FRANKLIN: Absolutely.
CHIDEYA: And on this album you have this whole conversation about your holiday cooking and you talk about how the chitlins almost killed you, so you weren't making them again. Now, do you mean health-wise, you're not going to make chitterlings anymore?
Ms. FRANKLIN: Yeah, no, chitlins are out and they are off the menu. And anything like chitterlings for me, A, they were keeping my weight up and B, they run your pressure up, and things like that. So, chitterlings have been canceled but off of my list. And I know my fans and friends are screaming Hallelujah.
CHIDEYA: Since we know what's off the list, the chitterlings are off the list, you have to give us a list of two or three things you think you're going to make as a cook over the holiday season.
Ms. FRANKLIN: OK. Two or three things, I'm going to make baked chicken and dressing for sure. I'm going to do mixed greens, turnips and mustards. I'm going to do an ambrosia, the way my grandmother used to make it. And... you said just a few things.
CHIDEYA: Well, hey, this - I'm loving this. The Queen of Soul thing could also apply to the Queen of Soul Food thing. Because when you told us last time that you had made ox tails while you were cooking on your bus, I was like, now, that is a woman who has some dedication to cooking. Let me just ask, how do you make your greens? Do you put meat or no meat and…
Ms. FRANKLIN: Actually, this time I'm going to use some smoked turkey. I hear that that is really, really wonderful. But after cleaning them because you know, grains are so gritty and so dirty you have to clean them first, of course, before you put them on. One of the ladies from the church who took care of us when we were children, taught me a long time ago, she said, just put a little bit of a teaspoon, maybe like a half a teaspoon of maybe soap powder in your greens, like something like Cheer or Tide...
CHIDEYA: You're kidding me.
Ms. FRANKLIN: I'm not kidding you. That's how dirty they are.
CHIDEYA: So just when you're rinsing them, I was, like, you cannot put that in the pot.
Ms. FRANKLIN: When you're cooking them in the sink, just put that in there with it, and then, you know, you're working with it with your hands and everything. And working that grit of those grains. Listen, you won't believe how much dirt and grit comes out of those grains.
CHIDEYA: OK. So…
Ms. FRANKLIN: And all of that. And you rinse them so many times until they're just sparkling and can't be cleaner. And then I just of course, put them on top of the ham hocks with some crushed red peppers and a little bit of garlic powder. I like that.
CHIDEYA: I think about the areas that you and I are from, Michigan and Maryland, and in some ways, right now we're going through this incredibly tough economic times, and it's not going to be a very comfortable holiday for a lot of people.
Ms. FRANKLIN: Mm-hmm. That's absolutely right.
CHIDEYA: I know that you do a lot of philanthropic work. How does the work that you do that we might not know so much about intersect with people's lives who are trying to just make a way out of no way?
Ms. FRANKLIN: I donate heavily to the church and various churches in the Detroit community and food banks. So, that's just some of what I do.
CHIDEYA: Now, we've talked about food and health, but you may also be saving people's lives because there's this new study out that says that listening to music produces endorphins that then lower your blood pressure.
Ms. FRANKLIN: Like laughter, right?
Ms. FRANKLIN: I can believe that. I absolutely believe that. It depends on what you're listening to. It's calming, it's soothing, you know, they say music soothes the savage beast, right?
Ms. FRANKLIN: But music can do a lot of things that transcends a lot of barriers.
CHIDEYA: What are you looking forward to?
Ms. FRANKLIN: I am waiting for a rewrite on the script for my autobiography and just getting ready for the holidays.
CHIDEYA: Well, Aretha Franklin, it is always great to talk to you and have a wide-ranging conversation, so if I don't personally get to see you over the Holiday Season, I wish the best to you and yours.
Ms. FRANKLIN: OK, Farai, same to you.
(Soundbite of song "This Christmas")
Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing)
Hang all The mistletoe I'm gonna get You know You better, This Christmas And as We trim the tree..
CHIDEYA: That was the Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin talking about her new holiday CD, "This Christmas Aretha."
COX: That's our show for today, thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to the podcast, visit our website nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for the news letter, visit our blog at nprnewandviews.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, we continue our listener favorite series, with a look at the evolution of Latin Jazz and the next generation of experimental hip-hop. I'm Tony Cox. This is News & Notes. Merry Christmas.
(Soundbite of song "This Christmas")
Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing)
My world is filled with cheer and you Oh yeah...
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