Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Aretha Franklin: An audience with the Queen

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin Aretha Franklin Aretha Franklin Aretha Franklin

Universally acknowledged across the globe as the undisputed Queen of Soul, Detroit-raised megastar diva Aretha Franklin this month returns with her eagerly-anticipated new album âAretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classicsâ. Which - overseen by Sony Music Entertainmentâs Chief Creative Officer, legendary music mogul Clive Davis - is currently being pioneered by its lead-off single, Arethaâs grittily rousing rendition of contemporary UK superstar Adeleâs pounding âRolling In The Deepâ which recently became Franklinâs 100th entry on the US R&B singles chart - making her the first-ever women to achieve this feat.

Indeed, featuring top-drawer production input from the likes of Kenny âBabyfaceâ Edmonds, Andre 3000, Harvey Mason, Jr., Terry Hunter and Eric Kupper, âAretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classicsâ finds Arethaâs unsurpassed, instantly-recognisable vocal stylings covering 10 differing diva anthems ranging from a lushly-orchestrated, gliding rendition of Barbra Streisandâs âPeopleâ and a funkily-shuffling reading of Gladys Knightâs âMidnight Train To Georgiaâ to an undulating reggae take on Alicia Keysâ âNo Oneâ and a spirited house update of Gloria Gaynorâs anthemic âI Will Surviveâ. Meanwhile, with Franklin herself tickling the ivories on her stomping version of The Supremesâ âYou Keep Me Hanginâ Onâ, Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum interestingly guests on the jazzy âTeach Me Tonightâ and Etta Jamesâ triumphant âAt Lastâ.

Born Aretha Louise Franklin on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, it was nevertheless after moving with her family to Detroit, Michigan that - regarded at the time as a child prodigy - a young Aretha would begin her career singing gospel and playing piano at her father, The Reverend C.L. Franklinâs Baptist church,. Following which, with her father now her manager, at age 18 she would eventually embark on a secular career, recording for Columbia Records where she would attain modest success prior to signing with Atlantic Records in January 1967. After which she would within months achieve across-the-board international acclaim and success via such classic singles as the double-Grammy-winning US Pop and Soul Number One âRespectâ (which to this day remains her signature song and has frequently been hailed as both a civil rights and feminist anthem); â(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Womanâ; âThinkâ; and âI Say A Little Prayerâ. All of which - alongside such critically-lauded albums as 1967âs âI Never Loved A Man The Way I Love Youâ, 1968âs âLady Soulâ and 1968âs âAretha Nowâ - would by the end of the Sixties result in her gaining the prestigious title of âThe Queen of Soulâ.

⦠All of which in turn neatly brings us back to this monthâs release of the aforementioned âAretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classicsâ. As a warm-mannered Ms. Franklin - whose l8 Grammy Awards and 75 million-plus worldwide record sales make her unquestionably one of the most acclaimed and best-selling female recording artists of all time - hooks up for the first time with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a rare in-depth interview.

PETE: Letâs start by discussing how your new album âAretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classicsâ initially came about

ARETHA: âWell, the concept came about through Mr. (Clive) Davis, the chairman of RCA. He basically came to me with the idea and a list of songs, and of course I agreed wholeheartedly with his SUGGESTIONS - because many of the songs that were on his list Iâd already bought and enjoyed in their ORIGINAL versions!â

PETE: So did you then inject some ideas of your own along the way?

ARETHA: âYes, I added Ashford & Simpsonâs refrain from âAinât No Mountain High Enoughâ - which Diana (Ross) of course did a very fine version of back in the day - to âRolling In The Deepâ, mainly because to me itâs one of the great refrains of all TIME. Plus with my granddaughter Victory and myself both liking Destinyâs Childâs âSurvivorâ - itâs like OUR SONG - I just felt for me it would feel natural to add the âIâm a survivorâ chorus to my version of âI Will SURVIVEââ.

PETE: Letâs talk further about your update of âRolling In The Deepâ - the albumâs first single - and your views on its originator, modern-day soulful UK megastar Adele

ARETHA: âOh, I thoroughly enjoyed singing âRolling In The Deepâ! You know, to me it was just a natural that just - excuse the pun! - came ârollingâ OUT! I think I did one, maybe two takes and that was IT!... And in terms of Adele herself I think sheâs a very, very good artist whose latest CD I loved from cut-to-cut, back-to-BACK⦠I mean, to me itâs a lot reminiscent of say Marvin Gayeâs âWhatâs Going Onâ or Stevie Wonderâs âMusic Of My Mindâ and âSongs In The Key Of LIFEâ, where each cut is entertaining in its own right but at the same time just seems to blend with the one BEFORE. You know, itâs not like a compilation of different stuff - there is a sameness to it but at the same time thereâs also a DIVERSITY... So yeah, as I say, to me Adele is just a terrific writer and Iâve enjoyed everything sheâs done to date.â

PETE: And what about some of the other songs youâve covered?

ARETHA: âOK, Iâll start with Alicia Keysâ âNo Oneâ. That one was actually produced by Harvey Mason, Jr. who Iâd worked with previously on the duet that Fantasia and I did. And while he - as ever - did a super, SUPER bang-up job, it was actually ALICIAâs idea to add that REGGAE flavour to it. Which I think makes it that much more INTERESTING... Then me covering The Supremesâ âYou Keep Me Hanginâ Onâ was really all about me thinking back to the time before I left Detroit to move to New York, when I was buying almost everything that Motown produced and put OUT! In fact I was only telling Mr. (Berry) Gordy the other day how he owes me BIG-time for all the money I paid out for those RECORDS of his!... And then with âI Will Surviveâ, while Iâve never actually MET Gloria Gaynor the fact is that song was a huge hit during the disco era, and with me just before the recording having picked up Gloriaâs BOOK âWe Will Surviveâ and read all the very inspirational and supportive stories in it, I just felt it was a song I definitely needed to include on this RECORD.â


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