Aretha Franklin In Conversation With NPR's Michel Martin
LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
And finally today, as many continue to remember the legacy of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, we're going to take a moment to revisit a conversation my colleague Michel Martin had with her back in 2009. They spoke not long after Franklin's memorable performance of President Barack Obama's inauguration. Here's their conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: When did you find out you would be singing at the inauguration? What was that like?
ARETHA FRANKLIN: Oh, my God, that was like - oh, my God. Maybe about three weeks prior to the inauguration I got a call and was told that I had been invited to sing at the swearing in. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
MARTIN: You sound like you were excited. You were as excited as we were.
FRANKLIN: I could hardly sleep at night. I was, like, jumpy, just excited, and I couldn't hardly settle down after the first night or two.
MARTIN: Why was it so exciting for you? You've had many, many honors in your time.
FRANKLIN: Well, I've had many, many honors, but that was unparalleled, I think.
MARTIN: What do you think made it so special?
FRANKLIN: That will happen one time in history, and it happened.
MARTIN: Was it just the fact of speaking at an inauguration or this inauguration?
FRANKLIN: They both would have been terrifically exciting but particularly because this was so historical and because it will never happen again. And I thank God and Mr. Obama that I was there and played a significant role in it - a supporting role.
MARTIN: I hope this isn't a ridiculous question, but I have to ask - were you nervous?
FRANKLIN: No, I wasn't nervous. I was very, very cold - extremely cold. I had been checking the temperatures long before I left home. I said, well, OK, that should be OK. I know it's outside. And I rarely sing outside, but I think that'll be OK. Checking the national weather, they were saying 37 is the average temperature in D.C., at that time of year, on that day - somewhere between 37 and 40. And I said, OK, that sounds pretty good. I think that'll be all right. And I got up at morning, checked the weather one more time. It was 19 degree. I said, oh, no. Oh, no. I knew how cold that was going to be, and I thought that it would have an effect on my voice, and it did.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you that. Did you make any special preparations to warm up your voice? Or how did you try to protect your voice?
FRANKLIN: I did everything I could to guarantee my voice would be where I wanted it to be and where it should have been. But Mother Nature just said I don't think so. So I just - I got so many requests, though, even still - so many requests after that asking would I record it? Was I going to record it? And I said absolutely because I just wasn't happy with my performance that morning, and I just rushed right into the studio to do the commemorative and 40, 50 years from now, people can play it for themselves - the younger adults and older for their grandchildren, their children's children - and look back at that moment in time - that one moment in time.
MARTIN: Let's play a little bit. Shall we? Let's just play - just have a little taste.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FRANKLIN: (Singing) My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, to thee I sing. Land where my father died. Land of the pilgrim's pride. From every mountain side, let freedom ring.
MARTIN: All right. I have to tell you, though, I was out there that day, as were - with many of my colleagues - and I think about 2 million other people - I don't know too many people who thought your original performance was lacking other than you.
FRANKLIN: I wasn't happy with it. Everyone else prerecorded. I said I should have prerecorded, but I didn't. I didn't even know that they had prerecorded until I heard it on TV later. And then I said, heck, that's what I should have done.
MARTIN: Were you able to recapture the emotion of that day, the specialness that you felt?
FRANKLIN: Oh, absolutely. I just went to that moment. So it is the absolute same thing that I would have sung.
SINGH: That was Aretha Franklin speaking with my colleague Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FRANKLIN: (Singing) Protect us by thy might - freedom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.