Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, talks about her life and legacy
By DeNeen L. Brown,
At age 70, R&B legend Aretha Franklin remains a musical force — still touring and working with director Taylor Hackford on her upcoming biopic. Although there have been recent questions about her health, the Queen of Soul says she’s “stepping right along” and “feeling fabulous.” The following are excerpts from a telephone interview on the eve of her scheduled performance Saturday at DAR Constitution Hall.
Q: Will you sing again at the inauguration, as you did in 2009 when you sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” on that bitter cold day before thousands?
A: I probably will not get a call again. If he called again, I certainly would not say no. I would love to do it again. And I would try doing it in another way so that the weather does not affect my voice.
Q: You’ve been asked before about that famous gray hat with that wide bow fitted with bling. Is it still set to go to the Smithsonian?
A: Yes. We were talking with the Smithsonian, but I found I had to go in the hospital. Everything was put on hold at that point. It’s still under wraps, though and perfectly protected.
Q: How do you protect your voice? It has been designated “a natural resource” by the state of Michigan.
A: I don’t abuse it in any way. . . . Get plenty of good rest. And a singer’s dream, which is hot tea, honey and lemon. Pre-concert.
Q: What are some of your favorite songs?
A: There are too many. . . . Certainly, among them would be “Respect,” “Jump to It,” “Natural Woman,” “Rock Steady” and “Nessun Dorma,” Pavarotti’s signature song.
Q: Who would you like cast as you in your movie? Would you please talk about your biopic?
A: Mr. Hackford and I are fine-tuning the treatment. We have been writing and editing it. . . . We’ve talked about a lot of names. He was interested in Denzel [Washington] playing my dad. I quite agreed with that — though there are other names we are thinking about and kicking around, like Jamie Foxx, who did such a great job in “Ray.” . . . We are thinking of Audra McDonald, who had just won a Tony on Broadway [for “Porgy and Bess”]. The question where Audra is concerned is whether or not Audra can get over into soul, not Broadway. That is a possibility, as well as Jennifer Hudson.
Q: You’ve said before: “Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community.” What social service projects have you worked on recently?
A: Sometimes, it’s revivals. Sometimes, gospel programs at my church. I try to bring in the best artists in the country. . . . There is a buffet. There is just lots of wonderful food. Everything is free. . . . I also give to the food banks in the city. . . . Sometimes, there are things on the news that are very tragic and people need assistance and help, and I donate anonymously.
Q: When you are onstage, what are you thinking about? What do you want to impart to the audience?
A: I’m there to give the best performance I can. The idea is to be as uplifting as possible and as inspiring to people as possible so they are glad they came and they leave with something that helps them throughout their day and on the way.
Q: What do you want people to know about you? Who is Mrs. Franklin beneath the music?
A: Well, I think people already know. I’ve been around long enough for people to know who I am and what my contributions are. They know me as more than just an artist. I think they know me as a woman, as well.
Aretha Franklin performs Saturday at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.