A Conversation with Dr. Don Mizell
After sharing the worldwide concern about the health of one of our greatest artists – Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul – I could not believe that a mere eight months later, the lady with whom I was conducting a special BRE interview could exude such grace, peace, warmth and wisdom. I wondered how she had found the strength and perseverance to produce, write, arrange, perform and release a fantastic new album, A Woman Falling Out of Love. As usual, she was candid and forthcoming in a far-reaching conversation that covered her life and music today.
DM: First, congratulations on giving us once again another sample of your greatness as an artist. But I must ask how you turned your personal situation around so rapidly?
AF: Well, all glory to God! It is by God’s grace! Of course, I’ve been taking better care of myself. I’ve changed my diet and my attitude about it. I don’t eat like I used to anymore. Yes, I still love those things, but since they don’t love me back I’ve let them go, pretty much. Sort of like certain people and other romantic situations I may sing about. I think about nourishment, not just taste. Now it’s Whole Foods… more vegetables… organic foods. Less meat, less dairy. I’ve gotta watch that cholesterol intake. Trim the fat and watch the portions. And exercise. Lots of exercise.
DM: Sounds like a lot of discipline to me. Well, your singing on this album is sublime. Even though you are sometimes conveying romantic disappointment, you don’t sound really angry. You sound like everything is wrapped up in a big dose of loving kindness.
AF: Well, you learn to cool out. You develop a better understanding of people’s capacity…what others can be and do. You can’t make people be who you want them to be. They are who they are. They can’t be whom you might like. Accept that or leave it alone. People don’t own each other…you can just go ahead and fall out of love, you’ll be alright, and they will too. Don’t try to stay in love when it’s not the real thing. Learn to let go of things that are not the real thing, the whole thing…and know that it’s okay to go ahead and grow out of love.
DM: The album is called A Woman Falling Out of Love, but it sounds to me like there is a lot of love in this record… it’s very lush and dreamy…the kind of record you could fall in love to, and not just with.
AF: Well, I picked the songs I love. Just songs that have real meaning to me. Songs from my youth like ‘A Summer Place’ and my duet with Ronnie Isley, ‘The Way We Were’ have always been favorites since way back when. The lyrics are so beautiful. And Curtis Boone wrote a really gorgeous tune, ‘When Two Become One,’ that I think will really catch on.
DM: That BB King song, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is truly sweet.
AF: Well, it’s funny, because the first time I heard that song I was around sixteen. It was my dear friend Ronnie Isley who was singing it in a club in Brooklyn called the Town Hill, and he was around that same age too. I wanted a blues song on the album and I chose it because I tried to have a little something for everybody.
DM: Your son’s original tune (“New Day” by Kecalf Franklin Cunningham) has a nice touch of hip hop to it. It’s very contemporary.
AF : Thank you, I’ll tell him.
DM: And your son Eddie sounds really good on the gospel track, ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’ It brings a pure traditional spiritual to the mix.
AF: Yes, I’m proud of him, and all my children, for that matter. I am going to release his (Eddie’s) album later in the year on my label. (Her son Ted White Jr. is the music director and guitarist in her touring band.)
DM: The album has a nice flow and feels kind of like a mood experience. Was that deliberate?
AF: No. I was not focused on my moods, or creating a mood, but more on my tastes, and the songs I like. I wanted to make a really musical record. It’s been a long time since people have heard some REAL music, not just something aimed at being commercial. Not a whole lot of artists are still all about real, whole music, although there are still a few doing it. This is for my fans who prayed for me and who have been there for me over the years. I love singing, I love recording, I love performing. It’s a gift from God and I love to share it.
DM: You wear a lot of hats on this record. You served as executive producer, produced and wrote some of the tracks, and released it on your own label. Why did you put yourself through so much work?
AF: I learned a long time ago about the importance of creative and business control, and the value of proper credit. When I was young I did a lot of the producing in the sessions, but I was not given the proper credit for my contributions. But one day I sent a friend of mine to go talk to Atlantic about it and since then I’ve kept that in mind. At this point I figure I should have complete control. I know enough, I’ve done enough. And sometimes too many spoons spoil the soup. And this is definitely Aretha’s soup and I’m a good cook.
DM: Well, it’s delicious.
AF: Next time, I will have a few more uptempo tracks. But otherwise, I’m just so thankful I’m receiving such a positive response from the industry, the press, and the public. It’s very gratifying.
DM: And so satisfying. How about radio, Black radio, you’ve got some radio- ready tracks. And your voice is in top form, classic Aretha.
AF: I still listen to radio myself. In fact, I love listening to Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden and others. I know the biz has changed, but for the good, in my opinion. There are lots of places artists can go now, other routes to get out there. The Internet has had a big impact and it’s actually easier for artists who want to do their own thing. Not just established artists like me, but all artists now have ways to develop their own opportunities. It’s a good thing. You don’t have to be a star to have creative control and make the music you want. Go for it, it’s a new day, and there are new ways to get out there.
DM: You included “My Country Tis of Thee,” the song you sang at the Obama Inauguration?
AF: I re-recorded it so people could finally hear it the way they were supposed to hear it then. I wasn’t too happy with my performance because it was just too cold to sing as well as I wanted. It was a part of American history, a crowning moment, and I so appreciate President Obama asking me to sing it.
DM: Speaking of that moment, how about that now infamous hat you wore? What is going to be its destiny?
AF: The chapeau? Well, the hat took on a life of its own. I’m going to donate it to the Obama Presidential Library when he leaves office.
DM: Well, you may be giving up the hat but certainly not your crown. When folks hear how good you sound and the stellar production on this record, your fans and supporters are going to love it!
AF: I hope so. I love singing for them with all my heart and soul.