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CNN NEWSROOM

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin Dies at Age 76. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR (via telephone): She was just fighting for her respect there. And she did that throughout her life, especially when it came to issues that affected people of color.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Gentlemen, let me bring -- stay with me, both of you. Because these stories are, you know, such a wonderful way to remember her. We're getting some other memories in. John Legend just writing, salute to the queen, the greatest vocalist I have ever known. Valerie Jarrett saying, an incredible gift to the world. That her spirit will stay with us and her music always. And then also, we are hearing from the mayor of Detroit who is also remembering her. And let's listen - you guys, let's listen to what she said and her music, her beautiful music at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral and we're going to listen to some of her interview with you, Don. So, first, let's listen to her voice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people don't know how much work she did with Martin Luther King -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Her voice honoring his life and his work. And then Don, here she is with you speaking to you just a few years ago about MLK and his legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: When you look at what's happening at Ferguson, what happened with police officers, whatever, do you think your songs were the anthem to civil rights or the civil rights movement? So many songs you've --

ARETHA FRANKLIN, SINGER: "Respect" was a mantra for the civil rights movement. It was.

LEMON: Do you feel we're moving forward fast enough?

FRANKLIN: I think that we have come a very, very long way. We have come to the forefront in many fields, of course, entertainment, sports and so on. But we still have a long way to go.

LEMON: I had earlier in the week --

FRANKLIN: We have made great strides.

LEMON: You think so?

FRANKLIN: Yes.

LEMON: Because you were there. You saw it. You were on the frontline.

FRANKLIN: No, I wasn't on the front line. I was with Dr. King from church service to church service. I'm on out on a mini tour with him when he first started.

LEMON: That's the line. That's the line.

FRANKLIN: Well, I was behind Dr. King. I was a very young girl.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Don, your thoughts?

LEMON: I mean, what do you say after that?

HARLOW: Right.

LEMON: She was, you know, she was the queen. She was the queen of everything. The queen of keeping it real. What I thought was -- that Roger made me smile because during that interview we had to put her bag on a table because, you know, being from -- she was born in the south but then went to Detroit. It is considered bad luck to put your bag on the floor.

HARLOW: Sure.

LEMON: So, it was funny, before the interview we were saying - Ms. Franklin, we've to get your bag. We have to put it on a table or chair. It has to have a place by itself. It's bad luck to put it on the floor. But I think that for me, you know, that interview shows humility. When I said, you were on the frontline and she said, no, I wasn't. She was there with Dr. King and the music was so much inspiration behind the civil rights movement that I'm not sure if she underestimated it, but she was being a bit humble right there.

HARLOW: We are getting all of these reactions, Don. I mean, we just heard from the Mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan. Of course, she started singing there at her father's church. He was a minister there in Detroit. And he said for the city she loved so dearly and called home, we are deeply saddened at her passing. She and the love and respect that millions, not just for herself but for the entire city of Detroit. And that's so true, right?

What she did for Detroit, for the people of Detroit, we just got a statement from former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mourning the loss of Aretha Franklin, calling her elegant, graceful, utterly uncompromising in her artistry as well. And they also, you know, talked about all the good she did. Her final performance last November at a benefit supporting the fight against HIV and Aids. I mean, Don, you know, Aretha Franklin, also her accomplishments, you cannot list them all. She was the first woman - the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1987. A year before the Beatles.

LEMON: Yes. She got a medal from the president of the United States.

HARLOW: Medal of freedom.

LEMON: Yes, that's what I said. She was the queen of everything. She was the queen of that. She was in movies, acting. I think she was an activist through her voice, not only singing but the words that she said, people -- they held weight.

[10:35:02] And so, yes, I mean, I have to agree with you on that. But I just, you know, think about it. Just think about her as a woman, the longevity of her career. Just think of how long it lasted. And how many different sort of genres - which is how many different eras of music that she survived. You know, starting with -- first it was gospel in the church. Then starting with soul, she went secular in soul and I guess you could call it pop or what have you through the '80s.

And then, you know, she came to Arista Records with Clive Davis. And I do have to say, I was e-mailing with Clive yesterday who is on vacation with his family. Obviously, it's a really, really sad moment for him. And he reached out just a moment ago and said that the notes and messages were pouring in. I expect to have some sort of statement and we should from Clive Davis in just a short while. But he is out of country. But I just, you know, he meant so much to her. For me, it's just interesting that Clive Davis had such a huge role in Whitney Houston's life who I covered very closely -

HARLOW: Sure.

LEMON: Huge role now in Aretha Franklin's life and I'm not covering now. It's so surreal to me right now.

HARLOW: So, let's -- as we wait to hear from him, Don, and as these other tributes pour in. Let's just step back and let's just listen to the Queen of Soul.

How sweet the sound, right, Don?

LEMON: Yes.

HARLOW: It makes me think, you know, you've got a lot of wonderful young people in your life, your nephew, for example. You know, if you are a dad one day, what will you tell your kids about her?

LEMON: First of all, I would just listen - just play her music for them. And just let them listen to her music. And then share pictures and stories about her. But I mean, the really transformative part -- thing about Aretha Franklin was just the gift in her voice. It was just angelic. And it was like nothing you had ever heard when she opened her mouth and she started to sing. I think I wouldn't really have to say much. I would just, you know -- by the time I have kids - I'm sure -- I don't know, they will be beaming it into our heads instead of an iPod or whatever. I would just make sure that they could listen to as much of her music as possible.

HARLOW: Yes.

[10:40:04] LEMON: Look, can I tell you, Aretha Franklin - listen. She loved her regal persona. And towards the end, she didn't tell -- she did not tell people -- many people what she was dealing with. Even some people close to her didn't know everything. Some of them were kept in the dark, because, number one, she was private. But number two, she loved having, you know, that regal -- her regal persona. You know, if you see her in her beautiful gowns. She loved to come on stage in a fur coat and then fling the fur coat off, because she was the original diva, the epitome of class. And if you open the dictionary and you look at the word diva, there's a picture of Aretha Franklin next to it.

HARLOW: There you go. Let me read you what Quincy Jones, the statement -- part of the statement from Quincy Jones just now. Aretha Franklin set the bar upon which every female singer has and will be measured, and she did it with the professionalism, class, grace and humility that only a true queen could.

And here's what Diana Ross just tweeted, "I'm sitting in prayer for the wonderful golden spirit of Aretha Franklin."

Don, stay with me. Also, with me is Elahe Izadi who covers all things, pop culture and music for "The Washington Post." What are your thoughts in this moment?

ELAHI IZADI, POP CULTURE WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. You know, I think the outpouring of condolences that you're seeing on social media just underscores how Aretha Franklin is truly a singular figure in American popular culture and American culture period. She sang at Dr. King's funeral. She sang during the inauguration events for three U.S. presidents. She was the person that you could turn to who could so beautifully articulate the spirit and soul of America through song. And obviously, she has influenced countless artists from Beyonce to Mary J. Blige, the list goes on. So many of these musicians have said, if it were not for Aretha Franklin, they would not be able do what they do.

HARLOW: Don Lemon, back to you on this. Tell me a little bit more about your personal experiences with her, having her on your show, as you can. I know some stuff is very private, right? I mean, she was more than someone you covered and interviewed. She was you friend, but there's a lot that people know about the public Aretha. What should they know about the woman that they didn't see every day?

LEMON: I will tell you, but I think it's important to -- I just got word from Clive Davis. I will read the statement, if you will allow me. "I'm absolutely devastated by Aretha's passing. She was truly one of a kind. She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world. Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend. Her loss is deeply profound, and my heart is full of sadness." Clive.

And so, you ask me about the personal woman. She -- what you saw on camera, it was the same. In real life, yes, she was, you know, she was Aretha Franklin in real life. But she was very personal. She didn't always love to take pictures. She wanted to be the center of attention only when she wanted to be the center of attention. And you know, we were talking about her, how much she loved New York City and she would come here as often as possible. But she didn't like to fly. So, she had to drive.

And when she came, she would stay here for a while, because, again, she didn't like to fly. So, she would come and stay at the hotel and then call some of us to say hello or come on the show or you know, have dinner with friends or what have you. She was also really good friends with one of my friends who I know you know is Tamron Hall.

HARLOW: Yes.

LEMON: And my heart goes out to Tamron right now because I know that she's suffering and grieving right now. And so, you know, we would meet her and do whatever we needed to do. But most of all, we just enjoyed -- I enjoyed celebrating Aretha's birthdays so much. I can't explain how much love was in the room and how special those birthday parties were. And I feel honored that I even got to share in the last ten years or so of her life.

HARLOW: And be a part of a life that she lived so, so fully as we watch her.

[10:45:02] There she is performing in Hollywood. We just got a statement, guys, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And here is how the statement begins. In all caps it says, "lady soul." And it goes on to say, "the first woman inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame, Aretha Franklin, was an artist of passion, sophistication, command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the queen."

Ryan Young is with me now in Detroit outside of a church where she performed, Ryan, one of her first solo performances ever. Right?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, sometimes you cover stories like this, you are not sure about the personal impact somebody's going to have on a city. Yesterday, we got a chance to go around the city and talk to people who had all sorts of stories about Aretha Franklin. When I walked into a barber shop, and every person there has some sort of interaction in terms of a time they remember Aretha Franklin.

I remember, one older gentleman telling me that never forgets the first time he heard the song "Respect." He said the idea that a black woman could stand strong and sing that song especially during the turbulent times really meant a lot to him. He talked about he would never miss a chance to see Aretha perform when she came home to Detroit because they considered her a hometown Queen of Soul. They wanted to see her. You think about this church here and what it stands for. This street is actually named for her father. He did so much in terms of the civil rights movement. I heard you guys talk about the connection that she had with Dr. Martin Luther King. But the idea that Detroit at one point was such a center of hope for so many people. And you think about the last few days here, it was really hot. And then all of a sudden, this morning, it started raining. And then we got the news here.

As we were running out of the hotel, one of the people that we were talking to told me, look, he says, nothing matters more at this moment than Aretha getting her respect. And he's felt like, yes, she lasted six decades. But a lot of times, we forget people who have been here for a while. He said he hopes that people take a second to listen to all the music that she has had over the years. And you think about the fact that not only did she span those six decades, but what she's meant. She was at President Obama's inauguration, President Clinton's inauguration. And then being there at the memorial service for Dr. King. So, you understand what this woman and her music has meant to so many people in terms of a generation and standing strong.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Ryan, stay with me. I know, you know, people there on the street are probably coming up to you now and telling you what Aretha meant to them as they get the news.

Back to you, Don Lemon. Getting that statement from Clive Davis and hearing what Ryan just said about, you know, respect and the impact that song had and Aretha Franklin getting her respect. What does she mean and her history and her fight for civil rights and all she has done for Black Americans mean to everyone in this country today in the context of what they nation is going through right now?

LEMON: Let's see how I put this in words. I think this is really important to state, especially from the generation that Aretha comes from, which is a generation of my mother and my parents. A generation of people who had to walk to school. My mom would have to walk to school while buses to the white schools would pass them. It would be cold and raining. My mother would have to enter through the back of a store or restaurant or sit at a counter that was deemed colored or go to colored bathrooms. It's only one generation ago from me. This was in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

So, I think, to have someone with the stature of an Aretha Franklin, with the dignity of an Aretha Franklin to come out of Jim Crow, to be an icon of the music industry, to be an icon of the civil rights movement, to carry that dignity on into the '70s, into the '80s, the '90s, and the 2000's up until this very moment, I think speaks the world just how big and how much of an impact that Aretha Franklin has not only on people of color, not only on America but the world.

And here is the one thing you that you must remember. Everyone talks about fame. Everyone talks about actors and whatever. They are only known for their time, most actors. Only if you can name a famous actor from 200 years ago -

HARLOW: That's true. LEMON: Then I will give you $100. But the music always lives on. Fame is fleeting. But music always lives on. If you look at the people who made their impact through music, you will always remember them. From 200 years ago, then I will give you $100. The music always lives on. Fame is fleeting. But music always lives on. If you look at the people who made their impact through music, you will always remember them because their music will always live on. Aretha's impact is not done yet.

HARLOW: And again, as President Obama put it, Don, for me, she will remind me of my humanity. Right? Beyond everything else. She will remind me of my humanity. Stay with me. Joining me on the phone now is a photographer, a personal friend of Aretha Franklin, Linda Solomon. Linda, are you with me?

LINDA SOLOMON, PHOTOGRAPHER AND PERSONAL FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN (via telephone): Yes, I am.

HARLOW: What are your thoughts? What do you want the world to know right now about your friend?

SOLOMON: She was -- first of all - first and foremost, I am from Detroit. She was the heart and soul of our city. She did everything for our city. And she once described herself, she said, when I'm not on stage, I am a lady next door. So, I would see Aretha at Kroger's.

In fact, I went up to the cashier and I said, did you see Aretha -- she said, she's always here. So, she was down to earth. She was unassuming. She was wonderful to work with. So many at the modern stars today ask for photo approval. Aretha would never do that. She trusted professionals to do their job. And other young stars should be inspired by that. She was devoted to her family.

I was able to photograph her when her son graduated from high school. And she was so proud. He was going to Michigan state. She hired the entire cheerleading squad to come to her house and celebrate with her and her son, because she was so excited that he was off to Michigan state. So, she would host fabulous private parties for her birthday. Every year. She would host a huge party and her Christmas parties were so special. So many celebrities would fly in just to celebrate with her, you know, for her birthday, for her Christmas party. And she wanted to keep it private. It was just her personal celebration.

But for those of us in Detroit, she was like our Elvis is to Memphis. Everyone has an Aretha story, because you would see her everywhere. And you could share your wonderful stories about her. And I must tell you, she was on my Facebook. With a different name. She would comment here and there. And then she would call me.

And I must tell you that no one had more telephone numbers than Aretha Franklin. Because when you would call her back, the number, of course, had been disconnected. So, I think I have 400 cell phone numbers all scratched out and then a new number would pop up. But she was like that. Because she would call you just to talk. We would gossip as girlfriends. She was really, so incredible. One in a million. But the personal side of her and her devotion to her children, to her sisters, to her brother, I'm very grateful that I knew them very well. I knew her sisters. And I had the chance to photograph Aretha at New Bethel Baptist Church underneath the portrait of Rev. C.L. Franklin, her father. And it was just an honor to know her, to consider her friend. And as a journalist, to be able to capture her for close to 40 years.

HARLOW: Can you tell us a little bit, Linda, about what she was like as just a friend? Without these beautiful gowns on, not being on stage, not made up, not singing. What was she just like day to day when you were gossiping as girlfriends?

SOLOMON: She was just like my other girlfriends. I mean, she was really that unassuming. And I will tell you, when I photographed her with the Detroit Symphony. She invited me, and she said, Linda, I'm not going to have any makeup on. But I want you to capture me in rehearsal. And she didn't have her makeup on. She was just, as I mentioned, so down to earth. And she said - and she knew that I was going to publish the photos. But she wanted that natural side. She was the natural woman.

And as I said, with -- through the years, just getting the opportunity to watch her. It was the -- the closeness with her sons. It's so rare. I mean, she was just so devoted to her children, her four sons. They are wonderful. I know them very well. And they just have such a special relationship with their mother. She was always there for them at every point in their lives. And as I mentioned, celebrating with them over special moments in their lives. But it was just that dedication to her children and to the city of Detroit. So, I must say, I am a very proud Detroiter that she was our heart and soul.

[10:55:10] HARLOW: Linda, thank you. I'm so sorry for your loss. But it sounds like you had a pretty remarkable relationship with a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing that with us.

SOLOMON: I'm very honored to have had that relationship. And forever grateful and forever to be inspired by her.

HARLOW: No doubt. No doubt. So, Linda, thank you. And Don, back to you. For you, what is the Aretha song that says it all?

LEMON: Oh my gosh. There's so many. But I would have to say -- God. There's so many. "Say a Little Prayer for You" - but my mind has gone blank. They've been sending out so many notes on what my favorite Aretha Franklin song.

HARLOW: "Precious Lord," "Take My Hand," "I Dreamed a Dream"

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: "Precious Lord" was my grandmother's favorite song. And Aretha -- nobody could sing that like Aretha. But every song that really came out of Aretha Franklin's mouth was the best song. I would say depending on the day, you would have to ask me what song. I love "Dr. Feelgood," of course, "The House that Jack Built" and then "Chain of Fools," of course is a great song.

I always talk about how she made -- you know, remade one of Sam Cooke song and really made it her own. Even songs that you probably don't really know that much about - most people in the 2000s she did a song -- an album. And I think it was "You Make Me So Damn Happy." And it was sort of the -- you know, the evolution of Aretha Franklin.

HARLOW: Yes. I think -

LEMON: I also loved her in the '80s. I loved her in the Blues Brothers. I love "We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love in my pink" -

HARLOW: Of course.

LEMON: I mean, you know, that's all Aretha.

HARLOW: Right.

LEMON: You know, it's funny, Poppy, I was going through some of the things, I was like when was the last time I saw Aretha or really, you know, spent a lot of time with her? And I remember it was during -- when Clive Davis' -- when his documentary was releasing back in 2017, I got a note from Aretha asking me if I wanted to attend and come see her.

And I was just going back looking through some of her text messages. And it's just amazing to sit there and look. She was so excited about coming. She said, I'm going to be in New York on the 17th at Clive's documentary party. And these are the people who are going to be there. I would love for you to come. She was just so welcoming to everybody. I wasn't the only person she treated that way. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't Aretha Franklin's best friend. I just happened to be lucky enough to be among her friends.

HARLOW: Look, she was a woman who lived life so fully, was so warm, as your stories have shown us, brought you into this, brought you into her circle. We are looking at her now, Don, performing in front of the pope. I remember being there when the pope went to Philadelphia. That was just three years ago. I think we have some sound of her singing in a tribute at a concert for Mandela. Can we play that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN: I love you. Good night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What a voice. What a life. What a queen who made such an impact. My friend, Don Lemon, thank you for being with me and remembering her in the beautiful way that you have with me for this hour. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has died at the age of 76. 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.