Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest singers of all time. But she does not, alas, have the best batting average for shows in the Triangle. Six times in the past 11 years, The Queen of Soul has booked concerts here – only to call them off five times after tickets went on sale.
The most recent one came earlier this year, when Franklin cited winter weather as the reason for postponing her Jan. 28 show at the Durham Performing Arts Center (to the consternation of many). But it’s been rescheduled for Thursday night at DPAC as part of a brief mini-tour. And once again, it’s sold out, so hope springs eternal.
The 74-year-old Franklin arrives in Durham on an upswing, still aglow from her incredible performance at last December’s Kennedy Center Honors show for Carole King in Washington, D.C. President Obama was in the audience, moved to tears by Franklin’s house-shaking rendition of “(You Make Me Fee Like) A Natural Woman.”
We spoke with Franklin on Monday afternoon by phone from her tour bus, which had just left Detroit for Durham. The conversation covered everything from road food to the upcoming biopic of her life that is about to start production.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being on tour?
A: This is just a little mini-tour, four dates beautifully spaced, and it’s just great. I don’t really tour anymore. But the hardest thing is there’s no Bob Evans (restaurants) on the route! They have a turkey and dressing that I really, really like. If we can’t find a Bob Evans, the second one to go to is Cracker Barrel. I love the Cracker Barrel. Their chicken and dumplings, for sure.
Q: What do you cook when you’re at home?
A: Well, oxtail soup. I make that at home, and it’s really great. I have some foods coming out this fall or early spring, a line I’m putting out, and one of my key things will be chicken and dressing. It’s not on the website yet, but it will be. We’re finalizing that.
Q: Are there any updates on who will play you in the biopic about your life?
A: The team will be in Detroit by the end of this month, straight outta Compton and straight into Detroit. And I’ll give you a clue about the actress in the first position: Her initials are JH. J-Hud. Yes, Jennifer Hudson. She was delighted with the news.
Q: When you’re out and about in public, do you ever get people coming up to you and asking you to sing something?
A: Not really. Sometimes they’ll come up and ask, “Are you Aretha Franklin?” I’ll say yes, and then it’s, “No you’re not.” “Yes I am.” “No you’re not.” “O.k., then I’m not.” Then it’s, “Are you really Aretha Franklin?” Once or twice somebody on the phone has asked me to sing. “Sure, I’ll sing ‘Respect’ if you want to give me a monetary adjustment.”
Q: It’s been nearly two years since your last album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” – is there a new one in the works?
A: We are just finalizing my recording plans. We should have something on the market by September, certainly no later than January. One of the artists I want to record with is George Benson. New producers. Gonna take a new direction.
Q: “Diva Classics” closed with a cover of a song that Prince wrote, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Did you ever meet him?
A: No, we never had the occasion to meet, unfortunately. His death was just shocking and stunning, really shocking. God bless.
Q: When you look at the state of popular music nowadays, does it ever seem like soul is being paved over?
A: Oh, definitely not. Uh uh. Soul is cultural and will be around forever. Like Stevie (Wonder), always. Usher does some nice things. Jennifer (Hudson), of course. Ledisi…
(At this point, Franklin gasped a bit.)
Oh no, I was doing my nails and my nail polish just fell on the floor of the bus – all over the carpet! Oh, I’m gonna pay for that. It stained the carpet. Where were we?
Q: Was that Kennedy Center Honors show as great for you as it was for everyone who saw it?
A: What a marvelous night that was, just magnificent. It was very rewarding to have the audience appreciate you to that degree, particularly in my semi-retirement. I was stunned to see the audience response, and the President. I had intended to ask him why he was so moved when I was at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but we did not get a chance to speak. I’ve heard the President sing, too. His singing voice is not bad.
Q: Five of your shows down here have been canceled over the last 11 years. Since you’re in the bus on the way here, are we good for this one happening?
A: We’re on the way. Unfortunately we could not come before because of inclement weather. It was horrible and terrible out on the highways. There were buses stuck for five or six hours, waiting for help with no food. Last year, we got stuck on the highway in a storm like that, and it was terrible. We were trying to get from New York to Cleveland and had to stop in Pennsylvania, could not go further. You couldn’t even see a car length in front of you. It was just too bad. I hated to disappoint the people of Durham. But we are on the way now, and we’re gonna bring it.
Who: Aretha Franklin
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. 27701
Tickets: Sold out; email email@example.com for waiting-list details
Details: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com