Flashback to 1993: Aretha talks Atlanta, fear of flying, food

Aretha Franklin performs at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 1993.

Aretha Franklin performs at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 1993.

This story was orginally published on Oct. 1, 1993

Not only is Aretha Franklin on the phone, but she's apologizing.

Two occurrences unexpected of the Queen of Soul. It's almost a given that a woman with "first-name-and-you-know-her" status doesn't have to plug her near sold-out performances tonight and Saturday at Chastain Park Amphitheatre. And you make exceptions if the vocal embodiment of R&B/pop/gospel/jazz/blues is a little tardy in doing so.

President Clinton asked her to sing at his inauguration ceremony and only the chattiest of gossip columnists mentioned that Franklin - in these breakneck P.C. times - had on a full-length mink coat. Grammy-award- winning producers Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds have summoned everyone from 90-million-record selling Whitney Houston to Boyz II Men down to their Atlanta studios to record, but eagerly packed their bags to be a part of Franklin's next project.

When you hear that she wants to record with you, says Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, "you drop everything, because you know it'll be historic."

And why? That's like asking your mother "Why?"

Because she's the Queen.

Nonetheless, some 50 minutes after the genuine "Ms. Franklin" - as she introduces herself - is expected to call, she does so. And, befitting royalty, she is gracious and courteous.

"I'm so excited about coming back to Atlanta," she says after the apology. "I've just been packing, packing, packing. I'm ready to get down there."

Chastain promoters guessed that the vocalist hadn't performed in Atlanta in 20 years, but she clearly remembers it was 1983 at the Fox Theatre. It was after that performance that she decided not to fly again.

Aretha Franklin performs at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 1993.

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"I was leaving Atlanta in a very small plane," she recalls. "A two- engine prop plane, I believe. And it was a very bad flight. I'm very much a ground person now."

So on this day, between watching her favorite soap operas - "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" - she's in her Detroit home preparing for her custom bus ride across the country. During this rare mini-tour, she will stop in four other cities. And, most likely, plenty of restaurants.

"I love good food and I love to cook," says Franklin, who has promised to cook longtime friend Coretta Scott King a pot of gumbo. "I've had some of the best soul food in the country in Atlanta. I had a brother at Morehouse [College] and a sister at Clark [Atlanta University], and the lady that was running a boardinghouse there could burn. And I do mean burn.

"People in Atlanta don't mess around in the kitchen. And that's a big compliment coming from someone from Detroit, 'cause baby we can throw."

Producer Daryl Simmons - who worked alongside Reid and Edmonds on two songs for Franklin's upcoming Arista album - leans back, rubs his stomach and smiles when recalling their recording session.

"We ate before we went into the studio, cut the songs and ate an even bigger meal afterward," says Simmons. "She made greens, macaroni and cheese, oxtail soup, banana pudding, everything. It was the most fun I've ever had with an artist. The only thing that could top it was her voice."

Aretha Franklin performs at Atlanta's Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 1993.

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"Well I'm glad he remembers something other than my cooking," Franklin spouts with a hearty laugh. She asked the now-dissolved production trio to come up with some songs for her because she "liked that 'Whip Appeal,' she explains, referring to a popular Babyface ballad.

"And that [Pebbles tune] 'Giving You the Benefit,' I like that. Most of the songs they've done are good. They are very, very talented people."

The result of her collaboration with the Atlanta-based producers was two songs, "Honey" - which she sang on her "Duets" television show earlier this year - and "I'm Willing to Forgive." The tracks will appear on her still-untitled greatest hits package on Arista Records, due in stores later this year.

Her 10th album on her third label will arrive at the height of what many R&B critics have tagged a resurgence in talented acts, rather than well-packaged entertainers. Franklin doesn't fully concur.

"I really don't see this large number of singers out there," she says, almost amused at the assumption. "Whitney [Houston], my adopted niece, has done some good things. Mariah [Carey], I like her. And I think Bryan McKnight is one of the best R&B singers around.

"But generally I just don't see it. We had a lot more singers coming out in the '60s. They were singing songs, what I like to call 'stick to your ribs' music. Music that would carry you a long way."

The Memphis-born singer speaks in measured, confident sentences - perhaps influenced by her prominent father, the late Rev. C. L. Franklin. It was he who told her she "would sing for kings and queens," and who still inspires the 51-year-old to look past the accolades and million- selling records for more.

"I have not arrived musically," says the singer and soon-to-be co- author of her first autobiography. "I'm not passive where my music is concerned. I haven't hit any pinnacle in my career yet. A stopping point. I'll know what it is is when I hear it."