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AT THIS HOUR
"Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin Dead at 76. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired August 16, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The tributes to her life are pouring in, a woman who has done so much for this country, so much for civil rights, a woman who we will always remember and whose music we will always cherish.
I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. Thank you for being with me.
I hand it over now to Kate Bolduan.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Poppy.
Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
We will continue following this morning's breaking news. The tributes, the praise pouring in as people across the world are now mourning the death, and celebrating the extraordinary life, an immortal voice of the great Aretha Franklin.
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BOLDUAN: The queen of soul passed away this morning at the age of 76. She was under hospice care. She was surrounded by her family and her friends. Franklin had been battling pancreatic cancer and was in failing health for years. She kept many of her personal struggles quite private.
Songwriter Carol King, who wrote the song that Franklin owned, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." She summed up the sentiment everyone is feeling, today tweeting this out: "What a life. What a legacy. So much love, respect and gratitude. RIP, rest in peace, Aretha Franklin"
She might be gone, but her iconic voice and her legendary soul will live on forever." We will spend this hour honoring that.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is taking a look at the woman, the legend, Aretha Franklin. Watch this.
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STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was the queen of soul who garnered respect on and off stage.
ELAM: Born Aretha Louise Franklin in Memphis, Tennessee, the four- octave-range vocalist got her start at a young age at her father's church in Detroit. The incomparable songstress often credited him with nurturing her talent.
ARETHA FRANKLIN, SINGER: Very early on, he taught me a number of things having to do with timing and phrasing and different things like that and coaching me in different ways.
He did say at one point that one day I would sing for kings and queens. He did say that. I have.
ELAM: Franklin won her first of many Grammy in 1967 for best female rhythm and blues solo vocal performance for "Respect."
FRANKLIN: It was a civil rights mantra. I thought it applied well. Everybody wants respect. Who doesn't want respect?
ELAM: As a young woman in the '60s, she watched her father unite with Martin Luther King Jr to fight for equality. In 1968, she would sing at King's memorial service.
ELAM: The recording artist would win 18 Grammys throughout her incredible career. She also took home awards for hits like "Chain of Fools" and "Freeway of Love."
ELAM: She was ahead of her time with a string of firsts. In 1987, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame. Seven years later, she became the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center honor.
FRANKLIN: Some of the things that have happened, unbelievable. Who would have thought it? Nevertheless, it did happen. God is good.
ELAM: In the '80s, Franklin adapted her music for a new generation. Cruising away with a Grammy for "I Knew You Were Waiting," her chart- topping duet with George Michael.
ELAM: With her voice and her achievements in music and films, like "The Blues Brothers," Aretha is often considered to be one of the greatest singers of all time. In 2015, Franklin graced the Kennedy Center stage again, this time to
honor Carol King. As she sang, President Obama wiped a tear from her eye. Her performance went viral.
ELAM: She also sang for Obama and Presidents Carter and Clinton at their inaugurations.
However, the woman who sang for kings and queens reveled in being good at the most important job in the world.
[11:05:04] FRANKLIN: I have been a wonderful and a very good mother and am a very good mother. That's what I am most proud of first.
ELAM: A loving mother and a decorated diva, Franklin was, most of all, grateful for her music, her longevity and her audiences throughout her career.
FRANKLIN: I think, for me, it's the love of music, loyal fans.
ELAM: Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, whose reign transcends generations.
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BOLDUAN: Her reign continues on. Looking right now at Aretha Franklin's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can only imagine those flowers that are sitting there will be -- become a garden of tributes that will pour in as this morning, as this day continues, as the news starts to spread of the passing of this legend.
CNN's Ryan Young is joining me now in Detroit outside the Aretha Franklin family's longtime church.
Hey, there, Ryan.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This church means so much to this family. Of course, to this city. If you think about it, this is the church her father led for so many years. The father, of course, was a prominent civil rights leader. The street is named after him. We have been talking to people about this church and what it means to them. It stood for not only civil rights but the idea that in here was a person who had a talent that came from Detroit. It hasn't rained in a few days here. It's a gloomy day here. We were talking to people in the streets yesterday and they said how much they loved Aretha Franklin because they felt she was a part of them. The city is a part of a resurgence. A lot of people are like, the queen of soul meant so much. If you think about it from a civil rights standpoint, the idea of a woman could stand up and demand respect is something that stood out. I think about it. My parents were born in '39 and '44. The idea that music stood out tremendously well. A lot of people have this connection with Aretha Franklin you can't imagine. They will pour out their hearts in terms of their love for this super star known across the world.
BOLDUAN: I see it on your face, Ryan. No matter what, you can't talk about Aretha Franklin's music without smiling and thinking, these are the songs that have run through the minds of generations and will continue to for generations to come.
Ryan, thank you so much.
We will check in with Ryan throughout this hour.
Joining me is Peabo Bryson, Grammy Award-winning singer and friend of Aretha Franklin.
Thank you for joining me.
PEABO BRYSON, SINGER & FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN (via telephone: It's an honor.
BOLDUAN: It's an honor to have you here.
Where is your heart, where is your head at this moment?
BRYSON: I'm in such -- you know, it's hard. It's hard to lose a friend. I lost a friend today. The world lost its greatest soul icon. Children lost a mother. Sisters lost a sister. I have to keep things in perspective. Celebrate her for who she is, who she was, who she will always be, the queen. I will miss her every single moment of my life.
BOLDUAN: You say it so well. She was so much to so many people. To you, she was a friend.
BRYSON: Exactly. Being friends with Aretha is a unique experience, in and of itself, like everything she did, it's singular. It's unique. Quintessential and validating all at once.
BOLDUAN: When was the last time you were able to connect with her?
BRYSON: A couple of months ago, we played phone tag. It's one of those things that -- making the transition, when you know you are close or you are heading in that direction, when you know what the outcome of something is going to be -- she has been ill for a long time. When you find out what the outcome is, making that transition through that door that holds the mysteries that every human being must face at some point is a very singular thing in itself. It's very personal and very intimate. You leave people to it. You don't want to -- I don't want to intrude on that moment. Unless she wants me to. You know? You play phone tag. If you connect, you connect. What's meant to be is meant to be. She knows I love her. She knows I always have and always will.
[11:09:59] BOLDUAN: Can you share with me a favorite memory? This is a moment of sadness, of course. A moment of absolute celebration for someone so great.
BRYSON: Radio City Music Hall, looking across at my duet partner and realizing that it's the greatest female icon ever. That is the queen. She's in all her glory. And that she's making you wear a mask so you can sing a song from "Phantom" with her.
BOLDUAN: That's not a memory one will forget ever, ever, ever.
BRYSON: No, no. A song that she randomly decided she wanted to do at Radio City. We had a few days there. She randomly decided that she wanted to do a song from "Phantom." she made me wear the mask.
BOLDUAN: Amazing, Peabo, just amazing.
Stick with me, please.
I want to bring in Don Kemon as well.
Don, you have been reflecting this morning. I hear the emotion in people's voices. Celebrating the life of a friend and mourning the death of a friend. You are as well.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT (via telephone): Yes, I am. Peabo has known her a long time. They have stories and memories that I have no idea about. From my perspective, from the time that I have with her, she was one of the kindest, most generous people that you will ever meet. I can relate when he says playing phone tag. I would send her messages. Sometimes she would get back immediately and sometimes it would be days. I remember texting during the inauguration. She felt how she felt about that. We won't go into that. She would tell me she was doing her thing. She said, "I'm going to be in the city in early March, have lunch at the plaza and kick it, ha, ha, ha." That was one of her text messages.
BRYANT: Tell her about the phone calls. The phone calls never lasted longer than four minutes.
LEMON: You didn't know -- every time there was -- I won't say -- it was a 248 area code. Because it was a Detroit area. I would say, that must be Aretha. Sometimes it would show up as Aretha Franklin.
BRYANT: Sometimes not.
LEMON: Sometimes the number I had for her before, I would call back and it wouldn't be there. I would have to call her assistant. Here is the new number. She didn't keep a number -- one she had for a long time. Some she didn't keep for long.
BRYANT: Yes. The phone calls lasted three to four minutes, max. She would call randomly and say, I was reading this and I thought of you. She would read me several paragraphs and ask my opinion, give me hers, and she would say, OK, bye. Click. That was it. BOLDUAN: She's done with you, my friend. She would be done with you
for that moment.
LEMON: She loved talking --
BRYANT: Get on with your day.
LEMON: She loved talking about things that were in the news. She loved talking politics. She loved the former president.
LEMON: Thought the world of him. She gave you her opinion. She did not hold back. Guess what? She earned it.
BRYANT: She was smart. She was extremely intelligent, very well read, bold and unapologetic.
BOLDUAN: Peabo, can you give me the unique perspective from an artist perspective, from a singer's perspective, someone who knows soul.
BRYANT: There is no --
BOLDUAN: Give me the perspective of just her impact.
BRYANT: There's no vocalist on this planet that is not trying to be some version of the original, who is the queen of soul. That's what -- everybody is trying to be some portion of that. If you are going to speak through music, you have to go Aretha Franklin.
BOLDUAN: Peabo, it seemed -- she was never sharp, she was never flat. She opened her mouth and it was perfection every time.
BRYANT: She was born with perfect pitch. She was born to be the queen. She was born with perfect pitch. She was a great, great -- extremely accomplished musician. People just don't know. It was nothing for her to -- when she -- someone was talking about a story -- she did a performance and sang an Italian aria.
BOLDUAN: So everyone knows, that's not easy.
BRYANT: If you sing anything in Italian, it's not easy.
LEMON: Especially with no -- with very little rehearsal, the last minute.
BOLDUAN: Don, go ahead.
[11:15:14] LEMON: It was last minute.
LEMON: She stood in and it was -
LEMON: And just knocked it out of the park. That's what I was going to say is that, Peabo, as much as I love to hear Aretha Franklin sing, one of the coolest things about watching her perform live is having they are check everybody before she started singing. Bring that level up. Fix that. She would do her thing on the piano to try to get the right key or whatever. OK, move that up. When it was exactly right, oh.
LEMON: That's it.
BRYANT: Knew exactly what she was doing every aspect of this business.
LEMON: That comes from sitting at a piano at a church on Sunday having to do everything right.
LEMON: She did not know -- she wasn't taught how to play the piano professionally or to sing or read music professionally. Later on, she did go to school for it.
LEMON: In the late '80s, that was all natural. I think it was Juilliard where she went to a master class or something.
BRYANT: She had to. She had to.
BOLDUAN: She not only sings the natural woman, she is the natural woman.
BRYANT: There's no doubt.
BOLDUAN: She was a natural born legend of soul.
Thank you guys so much for sharing these moments with me. I feel like we're only scratching the surface. This is wonderful.
BRYANT: We are.
BRYANT: We are really only scratching the surface of a genius that is Aretha Franklin.
BOLDUAN: Peabo, thank you. Don, thank you so much.
LEMON: Peabo, sorry for your loss.
BOLDUAN: Thank you. Thank you both. Thank you. Thank you both.
The tributes continue to pour in. We will continue to honor the life and the legacy of the legendary Aretha Franklin after a quick break.
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BOLDUAN: We continue to follow the breaking news this morning. If you are just joining us, the queen is gone. Aretha Franklin died this morning surrounded by family and friends at her home in Detroit, Michigan. She's the queen of soul. She's provided some of the soundtracks of our lifetimes. Her influence spans generations and continues to this day.
Tributes are pouring in. Sadness, of course, but so many honoring her life and her legacy. Diana Ross tweeting, "There's a bright flame about to go out. Only God knows when. Say a prayer and let her go. Deep breath."
Joining me right now to talk about her impact, her influence, her love of the great city of Detroit, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
Thank you so much for joining me.
DENNIS ARCHER, (D), FORMER DETROIT MAYOR (via telephone): Thank you for the opportunity.
BOLDUAN: I appreciate it.
Your reaction to the news this morning?
ARCHER: Very sad. It's sad because she is no longer with us. But I am so delighted that during the course of her professional lifetime, no matter where she recorded her records, outside of the city of Detroit, inside the city of Detroit, she never left Detroit. She loved the city of Detroit. She loved its people. She loved her family. She loved everything about Detroit and gave a lot to our city. I will tell you, she -- her image, her prestige has gone all over the world. My wife, Trudy, and I are privileged to be invited to the Clinton White House for a performance of Aretha Franklin. She was outstanding. It was so much pride to be there for the city of Detroit and see Detroit's own Aretha Franklin. Then President Obama invited the divas -- there were a number of outstanding very talented women singers invited to entertain at the Obama White House. Bias, yes. Aretha Franklin stood head and shoulders -- she was an outstanding wonderful person who cared about people. She gave back to her church, her father's church. Gave in any way she could. She had one of the biggest hearts that you ever want to find. She would always be a continuous supporter of the city of Detroit. When I traveled around the country and when I was mayor and was president of the American bar, I would go to different venues and would hear Aretha Franklin records being played. She was outstanding. She was well loved.
[11:25:41] BOLDUAN: Detroit, a lot of people counted Detroit down and out. Detroit had its tough times. Detroit is on its way back. You can rest assured of that. Seen better days, as we speak right now. What do you think Aretha would reflect on kind of that cycle of Detroit, Michigan, and how it falls on tough times but it's fighting its way back right now?
ARCHER: That's the spirit of the city of Detroit. Detroit, frankly, is coming back. We're very close to being where we want to be. There's been a lot of outstanding investment in the city of Detroit. That's the kind of investment Aretha Franklin gave to the city of Detroit. She could have gone anywhere. But she, like Rosa Parks, who was an icon, she chose to live out her days in the city of Detroit. Aretha Franklin chose to continue to be the icon that she is and has been. And she did it in the city of Detroit. Detroit is coming back. I invite anybody who has an interest in wanting to invest in a city to make money, to be successful, do what Aretha Franklin did, stay focused on the city of Detroit and come and see for yourself.
BOLDUAN: She never left. She was there all the way through.
BOLDUAN: Former Mayor, I really appreciate it. Thank you for sharing those moments with me.
ARCHER: Absolutely. Thanks, Kate, for the opportunity.
Republican Governor Snyder, of Michigan, put out a statement as well, Rick Snyder: "The world has lost an incredible talent and musical icon, one of Detroit's greatest residents. Aretha will long be represented -- she will be remembered as the queen of soul."
I want to turn to another thing Aretha cared about, where she had great influence, the civil rights movement.
I want to bring in civil rights leader, longtime friend of Aretha Franklin, the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. Reverend, are you there?
JESSE JACKSON, SR, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST (via telephone): I'm here. Thank you for sharing with so many people today.
Our hearts are heavy. I'm very sad because I miss Aretha very much already. She had been ailing last few years. She fought back in a gallant way. Yesterday we were at the house. We prayed yesterday. She appreciated the prayer. Aretha deserves respect.
BOLDUAN: I know she's a private woman. I would never ask you to share the private conversations. What would you like to share about the moments that you have spent with Aretha Franklin? The highs, lows, I don't know, maybe the final moments. What do you want to impress upon people?
Reverend, are you there? Darn. I think we lost the connection.
BOLDUAN: Reverend, it's Kate. Can you hear me still?
JACKSON: Yes, I can, Kate.
BOLDUAN: I'm not sure what you heard. I wanted you to share -- you did just see Aretha Franklin this week, yesterday, I believe.
JACKSON: We had prayer with her twice with members of her family. Her sister and brother. Her father ordained me. The big march in Washington and Detroit, which he led. Her family was involved in the struggle. So was she. I remember one time, Dr. King was under attack. She had a tour to raise money. She never stopped giving, never stopped caring and never stopped sharing.
BOLDUAN: What do you think her lasting impact will be on not just civil rights but being a voice of a generation, being the voice for so many people?
JACKSON: In music, Aretha would have an annual revival at the home church, top ministers who would do revivals. She never left the church. There was her roots.