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Aretha Franklin In Conversation With NPR's Michel Martin


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.


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.



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.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) Protect us by thy might - freedom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.