Aretha Franklin may be the Queen of Soul, but, take it from us, she’s no diva.
Example: Franklin dials in for a prearranged chat and eschews the caller ID block function; hence, her entire phone number is clearly displayed. (Fun fact: 313 is the area code for the Detroit area.)
Unexpected bonus: No third-party (aka publicist/manager) monitors the conversation as is often the case when speaking with power players.
Translation: Franklin, 72, is a low-maintenance interview. Phew.
She was amiable, relaxed, open and engaging, ready to chat about any and all topics. Could be she had a lot of time on her hands. Franklin was on a bus, traveling to Miami for the Blacks’ Annual Gala Saturday night at the Fontainebleau, while stopping along the way to promote her latest album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics (RCA Records).
Excerpts from the conversation:
Are you excited to arrive in Miami for the gala? What songs are on the set list?
Yes! I love coming back there. I used to sing at the [Miami] Dade County Auditorium many years ago with my father. I would go on before he preached. We came annually, and I have absolutely beautiful memories. As for the gala, I have an idea of what kind of music Floridians like: I think they like the hits. So I’m going to sing as many of those as possible. I have a few new offerings too and some surprises. I love surprises. I Googled the weather, and I thought, ‘Fabulous!’ We’re going to have great weather and a great crowd.
How did you enjoy doing covers on your new album? Any particular favorites?
We had a super time recording it. We got almost everybody in there. Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman, Alicia Keys’ No One, Adele’s Rolling in the Deep. I really liked working with Andre 3000 on Nothing Compares 2 U. Sinead O’Connor did her [version] down, but Andre decided he want to make a 180-degree turn and do ours uptempo. So I went back to my jazz roots on that one. He did a cool job. I found him to be a very nice person — an intelligent young man.
You certainly stay busy. Are you going to have some down time by the holidays?
Sure. I’ll have my usual Thanksgiving at home [outside Detroit]. Oh, yeah! I’m going to do a lot of cooking like I usually do. I’ll start maybe a week or so ahead with the menu planning. I go through all the magazines — Woman’s World, Oprah’s [O], the cookbooks. But I pretty much know what I’m going to make: turkey, dressing, mixed greens, turnips, candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows, peach cobbler with coconut on top. Can’t forget Thanksgiving punch!
So when you’re not on the road you like playing homemaker. How tough is it to be on the bus?
Luther Vandross and I used to talk about what we’d do when we weren’t on stage: A whole lot of nothing. After the concerts, autographs, pictures, you are just spent. You need to reenergize and rest. On the bus, sometimes you get off schedule a little bit. I prefer not to sleep on board because you feel like you’re always kind of in motion.
How do you prepare your voice for a big show?
I used to get laryngitis, and I finally learned when to close my mouth and be quiet! I practice a minimal amount of talking pre-concert. Also you have to wear the right clothing to protect your instrument, as they say — the vocal cords. I found tea with lemon and honey is a singer’s dream.
Being the icon that you are, do you get privacy when you are out in public?
You know, people are usually always very nice, brief, polite. All they’d really like is to take a picture, sometimes a double selfie or for someone else to take it. Maybe an autograph and that’s pretty much it. I’m happy to do it because it’s a nice memento of the moment.