Q: When I said I was having you on the show, so many people said you've saved them all year. Do you feel that inside?
A: No. I mean, how did I save you? I guess they’re referring to my tweets, and on Easter, I did a concert, which was wonderful, virtually, and I’m doing another on Mother’s Day. But if they feel I’ve been saying things that have been uplifting and inspiring — and I will giggle here and there, which I love to do anyway — then I thank you.
Q: Was it your niece who taught you how to use Twitter?
A: More than anything else it was watching my nieces and nephews on Twitter and giggling. They were having such a great time, and I wanted to know what they were having such a good time about. Brittani said, “Oh, we’re tweeting.” I said, “We are what-ing?” So she showed me. When she showed me what was going on in the Twitter world, I wasn’t too pleased about some things being said.
Q: What were you not pleased about?
A: The way these kids are talking to each other. Bashing each other and name-calling. If you’re going to converse with somebody, converse civilly, and maybe the presence of a grown-up is needed here. And apparently it worked, you know, and then Jack [Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey] called me.
Q: The guy with the beard.
A: The CEO, yes. He told me, “You’re such a positive force here because noticeably, if you’ve been watching Twitter lately, the tone has changed quite a bit.” I think it’s because I’ve kind of made my presence known, asking questions first and seeking out people. And I think the joy was finding there was laughter behind everything I tweeted. I wanted answers and they had no problem answering me. So it became a sort of mutual admiration society, which is wonderful, making friends and finding they had no problems asking me things that are important to them.
Q: Do you have to do anything for your voice now you didn't have to do 30, 40 years ago? How is it singing at the age of 80?
A: No, I don’t do anything special. I never have. The only thing to do to preserve your voice is rest, which is very difficult sometimes to come by. But that is basically the formula. This past year, I’ve not sung a note, not even in my house. And Easter, I was quite fearful based on the fact that I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth. I was like, “Oh, my God, I haven’t sung in a year,” and, you know, like any muscle, it needs exercise. But God, he came on and he brought me through it.
Q: So many people have covered your songs. Do you have a favorite?
A: The one I admire the most is Luther Vandross’s version of “A House Is Not a Home.” It is probably the highest compliment that can be paid when someone rerecords a song you have recorded.
Q: Aretha also famously did "I Say a Little Prayer." Yours went to No. 4 and hers to 10, less than a year after you.
A: What it boils down to is a song resonates with that person and they want to record it. They fell in love with the song and felt they wanted to interpret it. And she did a magnificent job.
Q: When you were starting out, you were very young — being mentored, being given songs. And we have story after story of these tragic situations with everyone from Elvis to Little Richard to Whitney, people who have been taken advantage of. What gave you the strength to do what you ended up doing and not be taken advantage of?
A: It all has to do with how you were brought up. My mother and father were two of the greatest parents any child could have, giving me support, love and encouragement. My grandfather was a minister, and I spent a lot of time learning the Word. I had no reason to be anyone other than who I am. That was always preached to me.
Q: I think about all the great singers working for Phil Spector who were not treated right. For you, it's Hal David and Burt Bacharach, who were different, it sounds like.
A: Well, they were grown-ups, and they had some standards set up for them by their upbringings as well. And my bar is very high. So, you know, if you don’t reach my standard, there’s no need for me to be around you.