At 70 years old, The Queen of Soul demands respect. Aretha Franklin performed a special concert for cancer survivors at the Celebrating Life and Liberty event in New Jersey hosted by the John Theurer Cancer Center on Sunday. Wearing shiny silver sequins like a true disco diva, she sang, danced and played the piano to energize a crowd of nearly 4,000 who, by the end of the emotional afternoon, rose to their feet to belt out her hits right along with her. After the show, the Queen was quite frank, opening up to HuffPost Entertainment about her connection to the disease, her big plans, the upcoming election and more:
As Aretha Franklin, you must have plenty of requests coming your way. Why was it important to be at this event?
Well, I could hardly say no. My great-grandmother had cancer and this was over 100 years ago... at that time they didn’t know what it was – she was just in pain all the time and they didn’t have anything for it in the South and in the country. My sister Erma passed with lung cancer and my sister Carolyn passed with breast cancer, so I came to encourage these women today and these survivors to continue on and hold your head up and keep going.
You not only inspired the ladies at the event, but you've paved the way for womankind throughout your career as the the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1987 and a catalog of empowering songs. With the controversial politics surrounding women these days, how do you think we're doing?
Women have been underplayed in this society. No one has been more mistreated than women and children and seniors, so we’ve got to stand up and we’ve got to keep up the fight until we do have equal rights. We’ve been kind of underplayed for a long time, but this is definitely the time of the woman – it’s time to let women put their cards on the table and let’s see what happens. We had Condoleeza Rice, we had Hillary Clinton and you see how capable and qualified they are and we may have Susan Rice. We need to see more and hear more what women have to say.
Speaking of having things to say, you have a biopic in the works based on your autobiography "Aretha: From These Roots." Who could possibly fill your shoes? That's a big role!
We’re thinking of Jennifer Hudson, Halle Berry, Audra McDonald… but I'm also going to look in the director's book for unknown names but people who are terrific and can do it.
Choices, choices. What will take the candidate over the edge? Do you see any of these stars in you?
We never see ourselves the way other people see us I’m pretty sure. Well, you do and you don't - it's not quite the same! We'll be meeting and should be in front of the cameras around May or June of 2013.
It sounds like you'll certainly be busy. You're still putting on several concerts a month! How do you do it?
I stay in great shape. I walk. I am very, very fit... walking K-Marts, the Superstores, Wal-Marts. I diet, I get my rest... You have to stay in good shape. I wondered how Mick Jagger could do all the running around that he did. And it’s because he stays in shape!
You have put on so many shows in your lifetime, but everyone will always remember your rendition of "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" at Barack Obama's inauguration. If he wins the election again, will we see a repeat performance from you?
I doubt it, I don’t think he’d ask me twice. He could, but I don’t think so and there’d be a lot of mad singers maybe!
It's been almost four years now, do you think President Obama is doing a good job?
I think he’s doing the best job that could be done by anyone at this point, considering where things were when he came into office. He had a multi-trillon dollar decifit when he came in. How much can you do with that? You can’t blame him for that, it was there when he got there. But I think he’s trying to do right by everyone because he’s concerned with all people, not just one or two groups: He's trying to do the best job he can for everybody. It’s a really very democratic approach to it. It’s going to be hard work. People might not want to hear that, but the outcome is a means to an end. There are rewards to hard work and I can’t imagine anybody else doing that much else with the problems that are at hand right now. They are not going to be solved overnight. It is going to take some time because we were too deep in the hole when he got there. It's just going to take some time, and everybody’s going to have to give a little something to it for everybody to come out at the right place and have a real democratic society. You know, that's fairness for everybody. But you know... if you vote for me, I’ll put a chicken in every pot! I am running for President, Madame President.
Yeah right, I'm just going to keep on singin’!
There's more "voting" than ever these days with shows like "American Idol," "The X Factor," "The Voice"... how is it to watch talent emerge this way versus the way you broke into the business?
It was different, we had to really work to get where we got. Our generation did: myself, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand and so on - we had to work. These kids today go on these shows and they are superstars overnight. I don’t think that’s a good thing for them to be thrust into the limelight that fast and to become that popular that fast. They don’t really know their craft that well, they don’t know the pros and cons of this industry because they haven’t had the time to learn what they are and to talk to different people in the industry - agents, producers, chieftains to really know what they’re dealing with, so this overnight fame is not a good thing in my opinion if you ask me.
We lost a music legend this year, one that was very close to you. If you go out to bars and clubs, people are still playing Whitney Houston and celebrating her. Now that it's been almost eight months since her passing, do you have any thoughts on her life and contributions?
There is a special in November that Jennifer Hudson and other singers will be a part of. It's nice to know she isn't forgotten and people are still paying tribute to her. Hopefully that will be a wake up call as well for some younger artists who saw what she went through and what that can lead to... You know, there will be something good about it.
Follow Lauren Mikler on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LaurenMikler
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