Aretha Franklin's powerhouse version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" became her 100th single to hit the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart when it came out in October. Recently, it also hit No. 1 on the Dance Club chart.
Aretha's back, and she returns to Philadelphia Monday for a performance at the Kimmel Center.
"Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)" comes from Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, her 38th studio album. The Queen of Soul interprets songs from her youth (Dinah Washington's "Teach Me Tonight," Etta James' "At Last"); songs that competed with her own on the charts in the 1960s and 1970s (Barbra Streisand's "People," the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia"); and some surprises from the 1990s and the new millennium (Sinéad O'Connor's Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U," and Alicia Keys' "No One").
Back in the day of R&B revues, artists would often blend several hits into a medley. Now that's called a mash-up, and Franklin segues from "Rolling in the Deep" into the Motown classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and from Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to "Survivor" by Destiny's Child and from Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" to her own "Respect." She sounds like she's having fun.
The album reunites the 72-year-old Franklin with Clive Davis, the famous record executive who worked with her when she was at Arista Records in the 1980s, and teams her with contemporary R&B producers such as Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Harvey Mason, and Outkast's André 3000. It's an album that looks backward and forward simultaneously, with Franklin's still remarkable interpretive powers covering a wide range of styles, from earthy blues to perky jazz to muscular soul, as well as working in a few au courant club beats. It's yet another impressive achievement in a career that began when she was a child singing gospel in her father's church in the 1950s.
Franklin was Christmas shopping for her grandchildren at a mall in Michigan when she spoke by phone just before Christmas.
For the new record, did you choose some of the songs yourself?
No, I didn't do that. Mr. Davis brought the concept for the new CD to me. I looked at the list of songs, and I was very happy with it and I wholeheartedly approved it. I enjoyed many of those records by the original artists, and I had bought some of them. So it was 'No sweat, right on.' But I included "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Diana being the homegirl, I couldn't leave her out, and a mash-up with Destiny's Child, "Survivor" - that's one of my granddaughter Victory and my favorite songs. I suggested the mash-up.
"Respect," I didn't even know it was going to be in it. Harvey Mason, the producer, put it in. That was his idea. When I heard it, I went "Whoa! What is that?" Then I went, "Yeah, right, OK. That should be on this CD. It's a classic, just like all these other songs." It was a classic. I think it's something like No. 8 of all time.
"Rolling in the Deep" is No. 1 in Billboard's Dance Chart this week, too. How does that feel?
I love that, I just love that. It's been a long time. It's thrilling. I'm going to be "Rolling in the Deep" at the Kimmel Center on Dec. 29, and swinging right on into "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," as well as "At Last," and I'll either do "Midnight Train to Georgia" or "Every Woman," I'm not sure yet.
The CD is titled "Classic Divas," but many of the songs are written by men. Did you think about that at all?
No, I did not. I didn't even look at that, who wrote it, male or female. I just loved the songs.
How would you define a diva?
I think a lot of people define divas as just being singers, but to me a diva is more than a singer. Diva, of course, comes from the classical realm. It has been applied to the secular singer now for some time. I think that a real diva contributes back to her community, is very sharing in terms of the indigent, to the food banks, and to the Red Cross, UNICEF, and things like that. That's a real diva.
But in terms of the record, you're not necessarily applying that label to the women who sang the specific songs that you're singing, are you?
I'm applying that label to anyone who feels like they're a diva. To me, that's a diva. That's what I'm saying. It goes beyond just singing. You know, people make a great contribution to the singer, and the singer has to make a great contribution back to the people.
What role has Philadelphia played in your career?
Oh, please! I all but started at the Showboat, down on [Lombard near] Broad Street. That was one of my first appearances. That's when Del Shields was very, very big in Philly, and Georgie Woods was going really strong. Louise Bishop, sure. I think it was WDAS, huge station there. Cadillac Club, out on Broad Street: I did a number of appearances there. [Joe] Pep's on Broad, that used to be a big, big club in Philly. And, of course, I got my hoagies over on South Street. . . . The Bellevue Stratford, I used to stay there a lot. Until they had the Legionnaire's disease, and that was it for the Bellevue Stratford.
I was wondering about the live album from Philly that came out on Rhino Records in 2007: "Oh Me, Oh My, Live In Philly, 1972." I don't think anybody's had a chance to ask you about that. Do you remember doing that show here?
I would have to hear that. In Philly? I've never heard that. Are you kidding? . . . I'd like to hear it, very much, and then investigate the business behind it.
What's in store for you after the Kimmel show?
This is the last concert of the year at the Kimmel Center on the 29th of December. We're going to rock and roll. Then, I'll be off until March.
8 p.m. Monday at Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.