November 13, 2007


The Queen of Soul Takes Control (JON PARELES, 11/04/07, NY Times)

Ms. Franklin may forever be associated with the 1960s, when she sang at civil rights rallies and gave the women’s liberation movement an early theme song with “Respect.” But now, at 65, she is more in control of her career than she has ever been. Like an increasing number of brand-name superstars, she has left the major-label recording companies. She is determined to tell her own story on screen. She’s considering choices as unexpected as piano study at that classical citadel, the Juilliard School. She has let the end of a long romance inspire some new, autobiographical songs. And after years of traveling on land she is determined to fly again.

Ms. Franklin was casually dressed. She wore a dark blue leather jacket over a gray sleeveless T-shirt and dark gray pants. She also wore a diamond-edged watch, a diamond-encrusted ring and a pearl necklace. (A visitor wasn’t about to ask if the pearls were real.) The dress she was having fitted would be worn for an event with Fergie: not the Black Eyed Peas’ singer, but Sarah, the Duchess of York.

When Ms. Franklin was a little girl, her father, the Rev. C. L. Franklin, predicted she “would sing for kings and queens,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve had the good fortune to do so. And presidents.”

She has been a star for four decades, in a celebrated path that led from her childhood performances at her father’s church to those indelible ’60s soul hits to ’80s pop hits like “Freeway of Love” and, in 1998, an R&B resurgence with the gold album “A Rose Is Still a Rose.”

Within a few moments of conversation it was clear that she is also still a product of her upbringing: a Detroit preacher’s daughter. She has fastidious manners — apologizing for the cough she picked up, she thought, by driving back to the city with the bus window open — and she spoke carefully but forthrightly, determined to leave no mistaken impressions. Her sentences were punctuated with the syncopated responses — “mm-hmm” — of someone who has attended a lifetime of gospel services.

Ms. Franklin, widely hailed as one of the greatest singers (and sometimes simply the greatest singer) of her time, is confident about her music but determinedly modest. When pressed, she admitted, “I’m pretty good,” then immediately knocked on wood.

“Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets With the Queen” is due for release on Nov. 13. It assembles collaborations she has recorded through the years, including new ones with John Legend and Fantasia. It’s a shrewd anthology that brings together live performances and studio tracks culled from her own albums and from guest appearances with Frank Sinatra, George Michael and Eurythmics. Few of her partners even come close to keeping up with her.

A significant problem when legitimate superstars do the trendy duet thing. However, one of the odder pairings you'd ever hope to see actually worked pretty well: Bing Crosby & David Bowie doing Little Drummer Boy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 13, 2007 8:03 AM
Comments for this post are closed.