The Billboard Q&A: Aretha Franklin

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Aretha Franklin's storied career is the focus of two new Rhino/Atlantic retrospectives, "Rare & Unreleased Recordings From the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul" and "Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Franklin Live in Philly, 1972."

Partnered with young gun Fantasia, Franklin is also back on the Adult R&B and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts with "Put You Up On Game." It's one of 16 tracks featured on the J Records compilation "Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets With the Queen" (Nov. 13), which includes guest turns by Annie Lennox, George Michael, Mary J. Blige and John Legend.

Billboard caught up with the 2008 MusiCares honoree the day before she performed in New York at the La Dolce Vita charity benefit on behalf of the Sarah Ferguson Foundation.

What one special memory surfaced after revisiting the "Jewels" duets?

Aretha Franklin: The duet with Frank Sinatra, "What Now My Love," is one of my favorites. It was 1969 and I went to Los Angeles to perform "Funny Girl" on the Academy Awards. Frank introduced me that night; to be introduced by the chairman of the board was a big moment for me. I had always wanted to duet with him. Frank always had the best arrangers, and his song selection and phrasing were impeccable.

Is there anyone else on your duet wish list?

Franklin: Absolutely. Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan. And you never know, Natalie Cole and I may do something. We've touched on that.

Is a new studio album on the way?

Franklin: It's called "Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love" on Aretha's Records. I think we're going to go to the Internet with that album, probably in the spring. Two fine young writer/producers, Troy Taylor and Gordon Chambers, worked on the album, which is mostly R&B with some pop. I also did some of the writing and production chores with Mike Powell and my son Kecalf.

Where do things stand with your stage play, "Aretha: From These Roots?"

Franklin: That's coming along very well. Now we're talking about it as a follow-up to a telefilm that I'm negotiating with one of the networks. I'm very disappointed, though, that I haven't received the film proposals I would have loved to see from Hollywood. I did get a couple but they were very poor offers. They don't seem to respond to female celebrities in some ways as they do in others. So negotiations for a film broke off.

But the play is still definite. I have a consortium of gentlemen who are going to back it. I held auditions over five days and out of the 500 people we auditioned, I selected one. That gives you an idea as to how scrutinizing I am when it comes to this project.

Have you conquered your fear of flying yet?

Franklin: I'm driving out to L.A., but this is going to be my last time coming to the coast until I'm flying again. I'm going to give it one more try. The last time I took Fearless Flyers classes was about five years ago. If it doesn't happen, at least I tried.

Actually, I'm kind of planning my semi-retirement. I will always be singing somewhere but I won't be going on the road to the degree that I have before. But I'll still do select things and still record. I'm more into supporting my sons now and getting their careers out there.

Kecalf writes, produces and also has a degree in film. Eddie sings and I've recorded some things with him. And Teddy has his own rock group that goes to Europe three to four times a year to do the festivals.

Is an "American Idol" appearance in the works?

Franklin: We've talked a number of times. Unfortunately, the show is on hiatus at the time I'm usually coming out to the coast. But since I'm coming in February, maybe I'll be able to do it this time.