Flashback to 2003: A chat with Aretha Franklin

Unspecified - 1975: Aretha Franklin performing live. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images)

Credit: ABC Photo Archives

Credit: ABC Photo Archives

Unspecified - 1975: Aretha Franklin performing live. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images)

Sonia Murray interviewed Aretha Franklin ahead of a 2003 concert in Atlanta that was billed as part of a semi-retirement tour. So what will semi-retirement entail for the then-61-year-old legendary artist who’s been recording since she was 14? During a quick, unexpected call from her suite at the Le Meridien Hotel in Boston, she gave some answers. This story was originally published June 24, 2003.

The talk about Aretha Franklin mothballing her crown was just that. Talk.

Her performance in Atlanta this evening is part of the Queen of Soul's semi-retirement tour. Not a farewell.

And the only city she says she’s probably crossing off her list of places to perform in the future is New Orleans — “because it takes forever to get down there.”

(Ever since the Michigan resident had an especially turbulent plane ride out of Atlanta in 1983, buses have been her preferred means of transportation.)

"I still plan to promote my records," says Franklin, who has a new album due Sept. 16. "I still plan to make more records. Produce. All of that."

So what will semi-retirement entail for the 61-year-old legendary artist who’s been recording since she was 14?

During a quick, unexpected call from her suite at the Le Meridien Hotel in Boston, she gave some answers:

Q: When word started circulating that this was supposed to be your last tour, many thought: "Yeah right! Look how long Cher is taking to say 'Good-bye'? And then there was Tina Turner's years-long farewell. But one of the differences between them and you is that you really don't tour a lot in the first place.

A: True. But I do enough to scale back.

Q: Let's talk about one of your more publicized activities of late: the prayer vigil you led for Luther Vandross [the R&B singer recovering from a stroke].

A: Had to do it. Luther and I have been hanging since [her 1982 single] "Jump To It," which Luther produced . . . and you know he designed two of the gowns I wear on this tour.

Q: So it's been reported. Which was kind of surprising.

A: Oh, Luther is an absolutely fabulous designer! He designs all of his singers' gowns. When I was admiring theirs, he said he would design some for me. And believe me, he is as good with that as he is with his voice. So you know it's the bomb.

Q: OK, now back to how are you planning to fill this new free time?

A: I plan to do a lot more writing. More producing. And supporting my sons . . . one is into gospel and secular [Edward], and the other is a hip-hopper [Kecalf].

Q: All right, let's rephrase the question: What nonmusical things are you planning to do as the semiretired Aretha Franklin?

A: Oh, I’m sorry — I thought you were talking about things other than my music. I’d like to travel awhile. I also want to sit down and watch these other artists perform live. I’m in the midst of scheduling my summer fun now, which always includes being in Atlanta.

Q: Any fun times in this city you want to share?

A: Oh my, so much of my early career included Atlanta. Some of my first tours with Sam [Cooke] and Jackie Wilson [sighs] . . . We had some of the best times there. I also came many times with my dad [the late Rev. C. L. Franklin] when I did gospel at the City Auditorium [the now closed Atlanta Municipal Auditorium].

Then there was the Royal Peacock. Let me tell you that [place] was as hot as it could get! There was another place on Auburn Avenue called Henry's Grill. Mmmm. The absolute best grits and sausage at Henry's Grill, honey.

Q: You've said before that Paschal's was a favorite too.

A: Oh indeed, I almost opened Paschal's.

Q: What do you mean "almost opened"?

A: I was like the second or third artist to perform there. And I believe I had the smallest dressing room in the history of Guinness books. There was one chair, a mirror and a curtain. And if I moved my foot one foot to the right, it was out of the dressing room. . . . But I enjoyed the performances. We were sizzling good and hot!

Q: Any more current memories of Atlanta?

A: I am so happy we are playing Chastain. Absolutely love Chastain.

Q: Some artists say it's a little too noisy because people are eating full meals, drinking and . . .

A: That's just people enjoying themselves. They're just having a good time. And at dusk, looking at all of those candles out there is very enchanting. Love Chastain! Love Atlanta!

Q: A lot of Atlanta producers [Daryl Simmons, Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri] were involved in your last CD. Is that the case with your upcoming album?

A: I'm not that familiar with where my producers are from. But I've got Burt Bacharach, Troy Taylor [who produced her new single "The Only Thing Missin' "], Ron Lawrence . . .

Q: Ron Lawrence? Is that the guy who produced with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs?

A: Oh, I don’t know. But that P. Diddy song “I Need a Girl” — that’s a dynamite rhythm right there. Me and my grandbabies really like to dance to that.

Q: You're a grandma now?

A: I've got two grandbabies!

Q: So how do you spoil them?

A: You know I do! I get them something from every concert. Every city . . . and they like Grandma's cooking!

Q: Conversations with you seem to always be peppered with food talk. Whatever happened to that cookbook or instructional video ["Switchin' in the Kitchen' "] you were working on?

A: It's on the back burner.

Q: There you go again.

A: [Laughs]. I want to do a party book with party tips. And I'll get that cookbook done too.

Q: Sounds like you've got a little Martha Stewart in you about to come out.

A: No — but I’ve got a whole lot of Aretha in me!