The conversation: We catch up with legend Aretha Franklin
The 72-year-old singer's new album, Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics, is out now. We chat to her about great voices, great memories and why she has no intention of calling it a day.
Q: How are you Aretha?
A: Absolutely fabulous. I’m doing my 15th concert tonight, the album has done well so far, I played some shows in Florida and New York and some other places too. I’ve been so busy working.
Q: Do you like being busy?
A: I do, I love it.
Q: When are you coming to the UK?
A: When I can get over this flying thing (Franklin is phobic of flying). I did take a class, Fearless Flyers, but I missed two weeks of it and my fellow students went on to Indiana and passed, and I didn’t, so I need to make those two classes and then hopefully I’ll pass and I’ll be able to fly again. I want to come to London. I’ve had a fear of flying since 1984. It just came on overnight.
Q: When did you and Clive Davis have the idea to do the Divas album?
A: Back in 2013. Mr Davis asked me to go back to sign with RCA — I was thrilled — and then he gave me a list of songs. I approved of the songs on the list as pop and R n B classics — in fact I had bought a lot of those records as a younger woman coming up, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand too. Ms Streisand and I were on Columbia together, and recorded around the same time. Clive Davis went there, but after I’d left the label.
Q: When did you first meet him?
A: Late 1979. He came out to California, Encino when I was living out there, we had a meeting, hit it right off and that was it.
Q: How was recording this latest album?
A: I had a wonderful time. Music is transporting, and can take you to a certain time in your life. There are many wonderful memories around these songs.
Q: The newer songs — do you know them already? When did you hear Adele?
A: I love Adele, and her album 21. I’d heard that before, one of the singles, Rolling In The Deep, but really I loved 21 as an album from cut to cut, from beginning to end. You don’t get CDs like that so much, where every song is really good. Marvin Gaye had that album with What’s Going On, and Stevie Wonder had that with Music Of My Mind and Songs In The Key Of Life, and Adele has it with 21. She’s a very fine writer, and has a very distinctive voice.
Q: Would she have made it in the Sixties when you were in your prime?
A: I don’t know, I’d have to think about that, but she is certainly one of the better contemporary singers and writers.
Q: What do you look for in a voice?
A: Something that grabs you.
Q: How long did it take to record the album?
A: We started in September 2013. We were back and forth to the studio between concerts, and really started in April 2014. We finished recently.
Q: Will you do another Divas album?
A: Yes. I think I would.
Q: And working with Babyface? And Andre 3000?
A: Yes, Babyface is a great producer, certainly up to the task. Harvey Mason Jr, too. He worked with me before, and he’s one of the best producers I’ve worked with. There are lot of good people on the album.
Q: Are people still interested in great voices? Is it a good time for singers?
A: Any time is a good time for singers.
Q: Are there other artists you admire at the moment?
A: Jennifer Hudson is very good. Fantasia is a good artist. Vanessa Bell Armstrong, lots of artists. I’ve a very big record collection.
Q: You’re still busy, but will you retire?
A: No, never. I’ll never retire, I’ll always be singing. If I retire from the business, I’ll be singing at ladies’ tea mornings or at church or at fairs, somewhere. I’ll always be singing.
Q: You’re friends with some of the people you’ve covered on this new album. What’s it like singing your friends’ songs?
A: Chaka Khan and I are friends, I loved her version of I’m Every Woman with Whitney. So it’s nice to return the favour, but it’s all about the song; whether you like the song or not. Gladys Knight and I came along together at the same time, Alicia Keys I know a little. We’ve had some lovely chats. Me covering her song in a reggae mode was her idea, she said that’s how I should do it. She did an amazing version of You Don’t Know My Name. I think we could do a great duet.
Aretha has won 18 Grammy Awards and in 1987 was the first female to be included in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Her new album, Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics, is out now. As well as Rolling in the Deep, it contains covers of Midnight Train to Georgia and Nothing Compares 2 U.