EDITOR'S NOTE: Aretha Franklin has cancelled the sold-out show at at Durham Performing Arts Center on Thursday. DPAC management says that ticket-buyers should hold onto their tickets for now until a rescheduled date is announced.
It isn’t easy for Aretha Franklin to put together a set list. The Queen of Soul has charted a staggering 112 singles on Billboard with 17 Top Ten pop singles and 20 number one R&B singles. So it takes a little time for the most charted female in the history of said charts to decide on what she’ll sing in each town she plays.
“It is something I have to think about,” Franklin says, calling from Michigan. “But I change things up when I go back to a city. I’m even mindful of what gowns I wore the last time there. I’ll put in new songs and play the songs they want to hear.”
Franklin, 73, will play favorites at her Thursday night show at Durham Performing Arts Center, and could also render a number of cuts from her latest album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.” The idea for that album came from music industry executive Clive Davis, who suggested that she put together a collection of old and new hits.
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On the record, such venerable classics as “At Last,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Midnight Train to Georgia” get the Franklin treatment. A version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and the Prince-penned hit “Nothing Compares 2 U” are standout tracks. The latter, which was produced by Andre 3000, is a radical reworking of the Sinead O’Connor hit, and the former was perfectly designed for Franklin’s incredible set of pipes.
“I really liked the slower (O’Connor) version and that’s what I was prepared to do, but Andre wanted to put a spin on it,” Franklin says. “He wanted it to be uptempo. He said, ‘let’s try something new and jazzy’ and I went with it.”
When Franklin is asked about such young singer-songwriters as Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, she is respectfully evasive – but she gushes when speaking about Adele.
“Adele is a very good writer,” Franklin says. “She’s like today’s Carole King. She’s that good of a writer. She’s a special writer and a good artist. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is a fantastic song. I love singing it.”
I’m going to keep on singing. I remember when I started singing when I was just this little 10-year-old girl. I embraced it then and I’m not going to let it go now.
But how does Franklin keep such standards as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “Think” fresh after all of this time?
“I’ve been fortunate to have had so many hits over the years,” Franklin says. “I’ll never complain about that. But you just have to figure out a way to keep it interesting for you and the audience. You can rearrange things a bit or shuffle the set list. You do what you have to do. But I’ve been so fortunate to have the ability to have so many songs to draw from and I’m not done adding to what I sing.”
Franklin also loves Alicia Keys and a few other young recording artists, but her favorites are peers.
“I just adore the Four Tops,” Franklin says. “I’ll always and forever love the Four Tops, Smokey (Robinson) and Stevie (Wonder). One of my (recent) highlights was performing at the Waldorf (Hotel Grand Ballroom) for the tribute to Robert De Niro (who received the Icon Award for entertainment). Stevie was in great form that night. There’s nobody like him or Smokey. That takes me back to Motown. For this record, I recorded some Motown songs and I told (Motown CEO) Berry (Gordy Jr.) that I spent so much money on Motown albums that I should be able to sing some of those songs. He laughed and he understands. I grew up two blocks from the studios at Motown and I would just drop in. I love looking back at Motown and where I came from.”
Franklin reminisced about winning a whopping 18 Grammy Awards (conductor Sir Georg Solti holds the record with 31) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (“I’m so proud to be recognized. It means so much.”), but she’s primarily looking forward.
“I still have things to accomplish,” Franklin says. “I still have this voice and I’m going to use it. I’m going to keep on singing. I remember when I started singing when I was just this little 10-year-old girl. I embraced it then and I’m not going to let it go now.”