WASHINGTON — Each time she comes to the nation’s capital, world leaders stop in her wake, bowing before her unrivaled talent and immeasurable influence.
Over the years, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” has performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton and accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Now, Franklin returns to our area with a May 13 concert at The Strathmore in Rockville, Maryland.
“Come on out D.C.!” Franklin tells WTOP. “We’re gonna have a stompin’, rockin’, sockin’ good time.”
The 18-time Grammy winner promises to play her hits: “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.,” “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Gotta Find Me an Angel.” She’ll also perform tracks from her latest album, “Aretha Sings the Classic Divas,” including oldies like Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and instant classics like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Alicia Keys’ “No One.”
“The concept came to me from Mr. Clive Davis, who is the Creative Officer now of R.C.A. records. (He) came to me with a list, I looked at the list, and I agreed with it wholeheartedly. I said, ‘Hey, I bought some of these songs! So I’d love to do a remake.'”
Franklin is no stranger to remakes. She may be the best to ever do it. After all, it was she who took Otis Redding’s 1965 song “Respect” and reinvented it into her own 1967 masterpiece.
“Mr. Redding did it, and he did it a terrific job with it, and of course, mine was appreciated as well,” Franklin humbly says. “I had a wonderful time doing that with my sister Carolyn. … She and I came up with the ‘sock it to me’ line. Then, ‘Laugh In,’ which was a huge TV show at the time, took ‘Sock it to Me’ and didn’t send us any royalties. Not a dime!”
The pop culture impact exploded on “Laugh In,” when then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon memorably delivered “Sock it to meee?” on the show, helping soften his image enough to win the 1968 election, unlike his sweaty televised debate against John F. Kennedy in 1960.
“I’m gonna have to get in touch with his foundation about my royalties,” Franklin jokes about the late Nixon. “I’m only kidding! I am only kidding!”
Regardless of “sock it me,” the song’s true legacy exists as a proud women’s anthem.
“Where the songs may have started in one way, they evolved in other ways,” Franklin says. “And yes, they did become a mantra for women’s rights and I think it’s appropriately applied.”
In 1987, Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, paving the way for others like Carole King, whom Franklin honored at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.
“Women are fastly breaking the glass ceiling and I think we need it. It will give us a fresh, new perspective, and one that’s been untried,” Franklin says.
“Women are coming to the forefront of a lot of major positions. There was Ann Richards, governor out of Texas. Hillary Clinton running for president now. (In) Baltimore, you have a woman mayor there (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake).”
Speaking of Baltimore, Franklin spoke with WTOP just as President Barack Obama addressed the Baltimore riots unfolding on television at the time of our interview.
“It is heartbreaking to see Baltimore in the condition that it’s in now,” says Franklin, who sang at the 1968 funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I don’t know what all the facts are, so I won’t speak on it at this time. … Definitely my heart goes out to the city.”
Through the ongoing evolution of race and gender in America, Franklin takes heart in her faith.
If she had an iPod, she says it would be filled with the piano of Herbie Hancock and the vocals of Jennifer Hudson, but her roots will always lie in the gospel music of Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson, whom she calls “the big gospel artists of the day when I was coming up.”
“They came to our church many times, both ladies did. So we would have gospel programs after the Sunday morning service, and that is where I first heard Clara Ward,” Franklin says. “Gospel gives us so much. It just is a foundation for me. It’s my background, and it’s a guiding light.”
How would she like history to remember her?
“That I am a giving and caring person and an artist second. … I’m not after lights, camera, action. It’s important to do the right thing when nobody is looking. … Everybody wants a little RESPECT.”
For ticket information to the May 13 show, visit The Strathmore’s website.
Hear the full interview below: