Aretha Franklin’s legacy cannot be matched, just ask those who had the honor of calling her a friend. Since her passing last week (Aug. 16), supporters and collaborators have shared stories about the Queen of Soul. The singer-songwriter’s diva reputation was widely adored but friends like Tavis Smiley, Babyface and Fantasia got to experience another side of the singer.
Speaking with Billboard for their Aretha memorial issue, the aforementioned as well as Jermaine Dupri, H.B. Barnum and Peabo Bryson shared sweet memories of the Grammy-winning legend.
“I was fortunate enough to do one show with her up in Oakland, Calif., probably in 2016,” Babyface shared. The music staple says he was aware of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis but Aretha was determined to keep fighting.
“I remember coming offstage and going back to see her and her saying, ‘You was killing them out there, ’Face! I had to come out here and see what was going on!’ And then we sat and talked for a little bit. She was actually dealing with the cancer, and her attitude was, ‘I’m not going to let this beat me. I’m going to keep fighting this. I’m going to fight until the very last minute and keep doing what I do.’ Even up to the point of that night, we talked about this guy she was starting to see. She gave me the story of what happened and wanted to get my advice on if he was for real or if he was foolish. [Later], we talked on the phone, and she said, ‘By the way, you was right about that guy. He didn’t do enough for me.’ This was her at 74 years old. There’s no question that she lived her life all the way.
Dupri, who worked with the singer on her Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998, said he was intimidated by the singer but she inspired him to shake the jitters.
“She did “Here We Go Again” all the way down five or six times, and it was basically perfect to me,” he said. “I heard a couple of things I wanted to fix, and I think she heard those things as well because she seemed like she was waiting for me to correct her. There was a moment in the studio where she thought she didn’t hit a good note and actually said, “So, are you going to produce me? If you’re not going to produce me, then I’m going to go home.” I’m sitting there like, “It’s Aretha Franklin! What can I tell her?” But I realized that no matter who I’m in the studio with, no matter how big they are if they ask me to come into the studio with them, they want me to be the way that I am with all the other artists. She broke me out of my bubble.”
Fantasia was also positively shaken by Aretha’s dynamic personality. The singer looked back on the first time she met Aretha, which was beyond memorable. After honoring the singer at a tribute show in 2007, she was given love and plenty of hilarious shade.
“They took us downstairs [after the show], and I remember the door opening, and I just burst out crying as she came in,” she said. “She walked around the room gracefully, as Aretha would do — very smooth. She shook hands, gave people one or two words and kept it moving. She finally gets to me, and she looks at me — I’m still crying. And she said, ‘You can sing — but I’m the b***h around here.’ I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute! That’s not what I was ready for!’ But she was serious. She said it, and I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ And I understood exactly what she was saying because she was that in my life, for me. There will never, ever be another Aretha Franklin. That’s what she was letting me know: ‘You’re good, but always know, I’m the head chick.’ And that’s what it is.”
Read the rest of the stories here.
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