Aretha Franklin driven by her love of music, faith
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She is pop/soul music royalty, having been the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and reigning as the Queen of Soul for more that five decades. She’s amassed 18 Grammys and sold 75 million records. In 2014, she became the first woman to have 100 career-spanning songs on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, hitting the mark with her 2014 Clive Davis-produced “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”
She is, of course, Aretha Franklin, and at 73, she’s not letting anything slow her down.
Unless it’s a broken-down bus.
And that was the case earlier this week as the luxury tour bus carrying Franklin and her entourage, traveling from Sioux City, Iowa, to Chicago, ahead of her July 11 concert at the Ravinia Festival (“I absolutely love playing Ravinia”), broke down on the Eisenhower Expressway at Sacramento.
Franklin, enjoying a few days off in Chicago, talked about the ordeal and more in a recent phone conversation.
When: 8:30 p.m. July 11
Where: Ravinia Festival, Highland Park
Q. How are you doing after your bus breakdown ordeal?
A. I’m doing much better today! Last night was tough. Sitting on the highway at 1:30 a.m., and not being able to get any transportation because of the holiday weekend! But within 10 minutes along came the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Police. They had a mini-bus and a small SUV. There were six of us on the bus. They put all our luggage in the mini-bus and we rolled in the SUV. They even turned the sirens on. They brought us right on in to the city. They were so very accommodating; just right on point.
Q. Were you having problems earlier in the night with the bus?
A. Oh yes! Every 35 of 40 miles we had to stop at a gas station so the driver could get fluid. We basically limped into Chicago! Then it just totally stopped on the highway near the city. What a welcome sight Chicago was!
Q. What do you think of the recent YouTube viral video of the little Johanna Colon tapdancing the heck out of “Respect”?
A. That little girl was serious! Just unbelievable and really cute. She certainly meant business! She was giving plenty of attitude. Loved it!
Q. You released “Divas” last year to critical acclaim. What was it about that music genre that made you want to record the songs?
A. The concept was Mr. [Clive] Davis’. He brought a list of singers and songs to me and I looked it over and said, great! And as a consumer I bought a lot of these records, especially when I was very young. I just enjoyed the songs. I told [Motown founder] Berry Gordie that he owed me a LOT of money because I bought so many of the records. [Laughing] He never sent me a check!
Q. What’s the latest word on the Aretha Franklin biopic? Whom do you want to portray you?
A. It’s kind of on hold. The problem is the creative control. I’ve had a number of very credible offers to make the film. The problem is not the songs, but the story content. The budget estimate is about $40 million and the people offering to put up the money want the control, of course. I feel the creative control should be mine. Who knows my story better than me?
I think we’re down to three people to play me: [Broadway veteran] Audra McDonald, who just won her [sixth] Tony Award. Audra is very Broadway, but she has the pipes and is a fine actress. She’d have to transport herself from the Broadway thing to the soul thing. Jennifer Hudson is in the running. And maybe an unknown coming from a church [choir].
Q. You were very active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. You sang at Martin Luther King’s funeral. What’s your take on all the racial unrest in our nation?
A. It just seems like it’s something that’s just not going away. I know there are many civil rights groups, such as the NAACP and the Urban League, working tirelessly to improve things.
Q. What’s the greatest thing Dr. King taught you?
A. Dr. King and my father were close family friends. I think it was his whole philosophy he talked about in his “I Have a Dream Speech.” He just wanted peace among people.
Q. Did it bother you that you were not asked to sing “Precious Lord,” in the film “Selma,” since you sang that hymn at Dr. King’s funeral?
A. It didn’t bother me at all. That was Miss [Oprah] Winfrey’s decision. I enjoyed the film.
Q. How important has your faith been to you throughout your life and career?
A. It is very important. It certainly has sustained me to this day.
Q. How much does the music still mean to you after all these years of singing these great songs?
A. You couldn’t be more blessed than being able to do what you love most and make a living at it as well. No one loves music more than me.
Q. Does it annoy you when people come up to you in public for an autograph or photo?
A. It does not bother me at all. I would bother me if they were no longer interested in asking. It’s lovely that they still are. People don’t ask for a lot. Usually it’s just a selfie or an autograph.