Aretha Franklin is “more than happy” with the progress of her upcoming divas covers album, but she acknowledges that with five songs done, a sixth in motion and four more to go the squeeze is on for its proposed September release.
“Well, Clive is concerned, but we’re on it. We are ON it,” Franklin tells Billboard, referencing Clive Davis, who’s executive producing the set. She’s been recording so far with Babyface and Daryl Simmons, while OutKast’s Andre 3000 is stepping in to helm the last four tracks after Don Was had to bow out due to schedule conflicts. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be fun working with (Andre 3000), just watching his videos and things,” Franklin says. “It should be fun. And, of course, they all come with great music, so I expect that.”
Franklin has so far cut renditions of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Barbra Streisand’s “People,” Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” up next. “I love all of them, the original versions,” says Franklin. “(Davis) picked the songs and I approved or didn’t approve, so it’s just an easy CD to do because I liked all of them.” And, she adds, fans can expect plenty of Queen of Soul flavor on each of the songs.
“(The originals) are classic versions and we’re certainly aware of that, and we’re going to do them justice,” promises Franklin, who recently received honorary degrees from New York University and Harvard (her third from the Ivy League). “People are different, you know? What they did is not what I’m going to do, and what I’m gonna do is not what they did. That’s just what makes it different. You won’t be disappointed; we’re going to give you exactly what you’re expecting and what you’re not expecting.”
Franklin’s other main project at the moment is a biopic that’s been making headway in recent weeks. During a recent visit to New York she met with the Lifetime channel and is also in talks with potential producers about coming on board. “We’re very, very close to signatures on one agreement,” Franklin reports. “It’s just a matter of our coming to terms and agreeing about what we’re doing to do.” That hasn’t stopped Franklin from thinking about who will portray her, however.
“Right now it could be one of several people,” she says. “There’s always the producers’ book, who the producer wants you to consider, and sometimes unknown names.” Leading her list now, however, are Jennifer Hudson and multiple Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.
“Audra’s got a great voice to work with, but she’s very Broadway oriented,” Franklin notes. “but that doesn’t mean she cannot perform in the arena of soul, so that’s why I’m interested in hearing how she would sing my things. The singing is certainly going to be a very, very integral and important part of it.”
With last year’s health issues behind her, Franklin is back to a regular tour schedule. She next performs June 28 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival and has dates booked into September.