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Interview:
A big home town weekend for Aretha Franklin in Detroit
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Aretha Franklin is never really wanting for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

But this week it will be coming in abundance.

The Detroit-raised, Bloomfield Hills-based Queen of Soul will have a street, Arethaís Way ó the section of Madison Ave. between Brush and Witherell streets ó named after her on Thursday, June 8. The following night a wealth of Detroit musicians will gather to play tribute to her at the Detroit Music Hall Center, and on Saturday, June 10, sheíll perform a free show on an outdoor stage near the Music Hall as the headliner of the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend.

And with her announced plans to retire from performing, it could be the last chance to hear Franklin sing live in the D.

Consider this, then, something of an ďexitĒ interview with the Queen ó although on a sunny afternoon at her home Franklin, 75 ó an 18-time Grammy Award winner and the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ó also makes it clear that while she may be leaving the stage, we have not heard the last of her.

Q: So is this going to be your last performance in this area?

Franklin: Well, I hope not, but itís possible. Itís still moving in that direction. Itís winding down.

Q: Why the decision now?

Franklin: After 54 years of traveling and flying and all of that can be very tiring, and even the tour bus takes a lot out of you. Iím not happy; Iíll put it like that. Iím not happy, exactly about not doing something that youíve been doing for 54 years that you really, really love. But thereís a warranty on everything. Nothing lasts forever.

Q: So what are you planning, given that it could be your final hometown show?

Franklin: Well, I tried to plan it around what I did not sing the last time I sang in Detroit. So I try to pick some of those things, some new things I would just like to sing and a couple of things I would just like to sing for myself. It might not be a million-seller. Itís just something I really like and would love to sing.

Q: Of course, everybody wants to hear ďRespect,Ē which turned 60 this year. Did you know what you had when you recorded it?

Franklin: No, not at all. It just happened to be something that I really liked, and I think itís doing what (producer) Jerry Wexler said early on ó ďĎRespectí is standing up over the years.Ē And it really is. They put ďRespectĒ in a space capsule. That is phenomenal.

Q: Youíll be performing within eyeshot of Aretha Franklin Way. You probably never imagined having a street named after you.

Franklin: Oh, no. That is phenomenal, too. Thereís not a lot of words that can top phenomenal. Itís such an honor to be honored by the city that youíve lived in all of your life. Thatís very special.

Q: So is this going to be a full-on retirement, or will you still make music?

Franklin: Oh, no, I can do things at home and Iíll continue to record. I just wonít be traveling the way I used to or doing anything like I used to in terms of concerts. It used to be five or six; Iíll only be doing one, maybe two ó and maybe none. But I have other things I want to do. Thereís a lot going on.

Q: That includes a new album. Whatís going on with that?

Franklin: Iíve got Lionel (Richie) and Stevie (Wonder) working on pieces, theyíre both originals. Iím working on a couple of things, and I got a text from Yitzhak Perlman. He and I are going to be recording. And also Elton John and I are dueting. Weíre going to do one of his older things that I really, really like (sings ďYour SongĒ). I think this is going to be a January release at this point, about 10 (songs), maybe 11.

Q: What else is on the to-do list?

Franklin: I have two properties that I want to sell. There is a food deal in the works; It has to do with people who make Krispy Kreme doughnuts and other products, chocolate and various other things. Weíre going to be doing some kitchen testing over the summer. testing recipes and perfecting them. That and the CD are more on the front burner. Weíre talking about a Franklin museum with my artifacts, and my dadís Bible will be in it. Thatís just a possibility. Iíd like to do a five-star nightery, a combination small disco, nightery and (Detroit) will be the test market for it. Itís going to be more of a nightclub than a restaurant, but of course there will be food, and of course it will be my recipes.

Q: Youíve had a biopic in development for a while. Whatís the latest on that?

Franklin: That is developing. We are speaking right now to some people that have put up a $20 million budget, people out of Hollywood, out of Los Angeles ... I think we need at least another $10-$15 million, so weíre looking for investors to do that.

Q: Itís quite a story, of course. Does it feel like itís been 60-plus years?

Franklin: (laughs) I would think maybe 35, close to 38, maybe something like that. I feel 50s. Thatís the kind of shape Iím in. I have a physical regimen I do, my diet, rest and all that. That keeps you in good shape for the concerts or whatever else you might do today. Seventies are the new 50s, you know. But Iím not making a big deal out of 60 or 74 or any of that. You just try to stay in great shape and you can do it as long as you would like to.

Q: What do you feel has been your greatest legacy?

Franklin: I donít know ó somewhere between the music and the humanitarian. That was one reason that I was so appreciative of the Congressional Medal because it spoke to my service to humanity and the community. The Queen accomplishes more than just singing, you know.

Q: How did singing become ďitĒ for you?

Franklin: I think I was influenced by the great Clara Ward of the Ward gospel singers. Clara was one of my mentors, seeing her at our church. Clara was so great, such a great singer. She was the best of her time, she and Mahalia (Jackson), being a family friend as well. They were different kind of singers. But I guess I enjoyed (Ward) so much that I decided thatís what I wanted to do. And there were so many others. We used to have gospel programs at our church after the regular Sunday morning service. In the evening we would have national gospel singers come to the church, and Sam Cooke was one of them and my dad invited him over and he brought the Soul Stirrers with him, and that became a regular part of our thing.

Q: So many great artists came out of the same era in Detroit. What was going on back then?

Franklin: Someone was talking to me about that recently, what I thought the difference was between the younger artists, the hip-hoppers, today and our generation. I just said I thought you had a lot of really good artists. Today you have your Beyonce, Usher, Fantasia and the like, Nicki Minaj. But our generation, the artists were stronger ó youíre talking about myself, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight, the Tempts the (Four) Tops. You know what Iím saying?

Q: Sure. How competitive was it? Were you guys slugging it out on the streets?

Franklin: Yes, we did. We came up a little different than the hip-hoppers today. They kind of have everything laid out for them by us. Theyíve got the Internet now. Theyíve got the social media and video, everything that we didnít have. All we really had was our craft and world of mouth and press. thatís it. We didnít have the overnight tools like they have today.

Q: Are you a social media user?

Franklin: Absolutely. I wouldnít be without Google, and I love Facebook.

Q: It always seems odd that with your familyís prominence in Detroit that Berry Gordy never grabbed you for Motown.

Franklin: At the time, my dad did go to see Berry to see about me being an artist on Motown. But at the time his records were being leased to United Artists and he didnít have international distribution, and thatís what dad wanted for me. He wanted me to have national and international distribution, so thatís why we went to Columbia.

Q: But you did have kind of a front row seat to Motownís explosion.

Franklin: I loved it. They used to come to New York while I was there taking classes in the 1650 building. I saw the Supremes when they were not the supreme Supremes (chuckles). They were just young girls with black skirts and white blouses. They didnít have any of the glamour that they developed later. They were just aspiring artists. The Tops used to come into the Apollo ó they all came to the Apollo. So when I had the time Iíd go to see them, and I was really proud.

Q: When it was time to leave Columbia, did you consider Motown again before signing with Atlantic?

Franklin: At that point no, I didnít, because Jerry Wexler made an entree into my coming to Atlantic and he was so cool about it. We just went over and had a meeting with him and that was it.

Q: What made it such an easy decision?

Franklin: I think the thing that really made the difference was Jerry wanted me to sit down and play instead of other pianists. I know how to support myself musically in a completely different way than other pianists ó which is not to say I havenít had fabulous pianists. Iíve had some of the best pianists in the business ó Ray Bryant, Richard Gibbs out of Chicago, a lot of great, fabulous pianists. But I just know more of what it is I want than other pianists, and Jerry knew that, and that made the difference.

Q: Youíve covered plenty of musical ground in your career, too. Are there styles or genres that are still on the wish list.

Franklin: Well, I have never recorded anything I didnít like. There are a number of things I still want to do on a record. One of my upcoming projects is myself and George Benson. Weíve got some new, really, really, really, really hot stuff coming, I would say by summer, the end of summer. Itís a really mixed bag (of styles).

Q: What advice would you give to any young woman starting out in the business today?

Franklin: Be sure youíve got your education intact, because the music industry is highly competitive, extremely competitive. There are no guarantees. You may or may not make it. There are only so many spots that the (radio) program director is going to fill, and you may or may not be one of those spots. If you canít get on and get into rotation with the (Program Directors) then youíve got a problem. So you better have a plan B, C and D ó and educate yourself to the music industry as much as possible, so you can assist yourself when others are not assisting you.

Q: Is Detroit coming back?

Franklin: Detroit is absolutely coming back, definitely. I think people are responding to the mayor (Mike Duggan) very well. I believe he has been able to bring a lot of money and developers into the city, and thatís what we need. There is going to be a renaissance, so if youíre an investor, hurry to Detroit because now is definitely the time.

Q: Is it starting to feel like the thriving Detroit you grew up in?

Franklin: In some places it is and in some places itís totally new and very fresh. You can see what itís going to be, especially when you drive along Woodward (Avenue), you can really see the development and the good things that are happening.

Q: What are the greatest misconceptions about you?

Franklin: There are some, yes, and some ridiculous things. But thatís a whole nother day and a whole nother conversation.



ē If You Go: The Detroit Music Weekend featuring Aretha Franklin, Mitch Ryder, Josh Gracin, Laith al-Saadi, Tuxedo and more runs 11 a.m. Saturday, June 10 in and around Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. Admission is free for most events. Some are ticketed. Call 313-887-8500 or visit detroitmusicweekend.org.

ē Other events: Aretha Franklin Way will be dedicated at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 8, on Madison Ave. A ďTribute to Aretha FranklinĒ takes place at 8 p.m. Friday, June 9.

Web Site: www.detroitmusicweekend.org

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