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"Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin Dead at Age 76. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:01] DON LEMON CNN CORRESPONDENT: John king, you heard Dionne Warwick in "Say A Little Prayer". Originally recorded by Dionne Warwick and then Aretha Franklin did it as well. And she -- you know, you heard Dionne say that they recorded a number of different songs together. They were friends.

And these are people who really came up through the ranks. There it is. "Say A Little Prayer."

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It is a day to say a little prayer, both in sadness and in celebration. Great listening to you, Don, first, your stories. Then you heard Van Jones earlier and (INAUDIBLE) earlier. She was a queen. She didn't have to be nice to the little people, but her support for people -- I don't mean to call you a little person but in the context of Aretha Franklin, her support for people checking in, giving you encouragement, that tells you about the woman -- obviously incredibly talented woman.

That tells me more about the human being than the musician. Remarkable to hear about the grace there in this world. Thank you so much for sharing as well, Don. Can't say enough thanks to you on this day.

LEMON: Thank you, John.

KING: As we go to break here, we'll continue our coverage of this story. You've heard it throughout the hour. Aretha Franklin, a show stopper. Here's Shonda Rhimes on Twitter, "Noting today how she stepped in for opera legend, Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys. Her performance nothing short of stunning."


[12:36:41] KING: Welcome back. We have lost a legend today. Aretha Franklin dead at 76. Her musical imprint, though, on the American consciousness will no doubt carry on well into the future.

NPR's Ann Powers writing of Franklin, saying, no one better expressed American joy, gospel, soul, rock, R&B, jazz. Her discography touches on each musical genre we like to consider distinctly American. Her voice not confined to a category, that you unique bravado breaking boundaries throughout her more than 50-year career.

CNN's Brynn Gingras live outside the signature Apollo Theater in New York City. Brynn, obviously, the Apollo Theater home to Aretha Franklin.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there are fans that are coming by. There is a plaque in front of the Apollo Theater with her name on it. Of course, joining other greats like James Brown and Michael Jackson, Etta James. She's among all of those plaques people taking pictures of them.

And of course, the marquee here, "Rest in peace, Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul". And the Apollo did say they are going to have some sort of tribute to her, though that planning is still in the works.

I got to tell you though, John, it's been amazing to talk to people here because, you know, she performed here over a dozen times, according to the director of the Apollo Theater ever since the '60s. The last time she performed here in 2010.

I talked to someone who actually said he listened to Aretha Franklin because his mother loved her, his father loved her so he grew up listening to her. And when he had the chance to actually see her here at the Apollo Theater, he described it to me. And he basically said he waited in a line that wrapped around the block here in Harlem, finally got inside that theater. And when the concert was about to start, he said Aretha Franklin, not even on the stage, backstage hit a note and the entire theater just went up crazy.

He said it was mystical, magical. Imagine that. Only 1,500 seats in the Apollo Theater and can you imagine hearing that note and not even seeing her in the flesh just yet. So he was describing that to me.

A lot of memories here that people are expressing of Aretha Franklin being part of their childhood, what they meant to her. Another woman from Poland said that she's a musician and she has so much respect for Aretha Franklin. So obviously her name we know global recognition. And people are not really mourning here but more rejoicing the fact that she made an impact on their lives, John.

KING: Brynn Gingras outside the Apollo Theater. Brynn, thank you so much.

Let's continue the conversation with Chris Richards, he's pop music critic for the Washington Post. And Marc Lamont Hill, he's the host of BET News.

Everybody knows the music. But maybe for younger folks or people who don't understand her history, the impact of the music, the impact of her and the music on American history. Marc Lamont Hill, to you first, your thoughts on this sad but important day.

MARC LAMONT HILL, HOST, BET NEWS: I mean, you cannot overstate Aretha Franklin's importance to black music, to American music, to global music. Aretha Franklin was a legend. She was a star from the 1960s on Columbia Records where she took American standards and remade them and reshaped them into her own, to the point that other singers like Sarah Vaughan, Etta James said we don't even want to touch them anymore. To that moment in 1967 when she jumps on to Atlantic Records and makes a string of hits from "Never Loved A Man" to "Natural Woman", I mean, you could go to the whole '70s and really understand Aretha Franklin was the backdrop and sound track to the '70s.

But it wasn't just the music, it was also the culture.

[12:40:01] Her clothes, her hair, the stands she took politically. All of it spoke to a certain kind of unapologetic blackness but it in embrace of the global community. Aretha Franklin really is an American original and there will never be another Aretha Franklin.

KING: And Chris, before you jump in, we played a little of "Respect" from Aretha Franklin from the 2000s. But I want to go back and listen to Aretha singing "Respect" in the '60s.


KING: It is, Chris Richards, great music. But again, an African- American woman, a young African-American in the 1960s singing "Respect" is also a great and important message.

CHRIS RICHARDS, POP MUSIC CRITIC, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I mean, Aretha Franklin talked about soul music as if it was this idea of surfacing your humanity through melody. For a young black woman to be doing that at the molten core of the civil rights movement, we can't overestimate how important that was.

She demanded to be a part of the conversation. Her voice asked us to think. It demanded respect and it's resonant to this day.

If we're talking about influence, she's probably the most influential singer of the 20th century. And I'd say certainly the most pivotal. You can really divide American music into before and after Aretha Franklin.

KING: So Marc, you talked about this a moment ago. I just want (INAUDIBLE) that if Aretha sang it, nobody, even the greatest didn't want to do it again. Well then, how do you deal with this one at the inauguration in 2009?


ARETHA FRANKLIN: My country, 'tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died. Land of the pilgrims' pride. From every mountainside, let freedom ring!


KING: Marc Lamont Hill, again, when you listen to that, no disrespect to any other performer, but how could you touch it? And being again, just years later in her career but standing on the steps of the Capitol, the inauguration of the first African-American president. Just wow. HILL: Yes, wow is all you can say. I mean -- again, many people have sung the national anthem masterfully, but no one did what Aretha Franklin did right there. Her command of voice, her command of talent, her ear, but also how she understood the cultural moment.

She knew how significant it was to have an African-American president. And she was on her A game right then. In South Africa, she was on her A game. At the Grammys stage filling in for Pavarotti on two hours notice, she was on her A game.

At every moment where she's had to be on her A game, she's done it. And like you said, there's a before period and there's an after period when it comes to Aretha Franklin with regard to American music.

And so, when you hear her sing "Respect," you don't want to hear Otis Redding sing it again. You know, when she sings "Skylark", you don't want to hear Sarah Vaughan sing it again. When she sings "Until You Come Back to Me", you don't want to hear Stevie Wonders sing it again. Not because they're not all musical geniuses, but because Aretha did something really special.

And John, we have to add that we talk about Aretha Franklin as a voice, but it is important to understand that Aretha Franklin wasn't just a product of her father C.L. Franklin or just the artistic product of a Jerry Wexler. She was a musical genius in her own right. She played those songs. She made those arrangements. She laid the vocals in the studio.

She stood side by side with Curtis Mayfield to make that sound. She stood side by side with Luther Vandross to make "Jump to It". I mean, she was a genius in all aspects of music. And sometimes we don't appreciate how special she was.

KING: Amen to that. And Chris Richards, I'll give you the last word in the sense that we will listen to her songs for years and years and years. Where else do you see her in today's performers? Where do you see the lineage, the history, the next, if you will, to try to follow Aretha Franklin?

RICHARDS: I mean, it's everywhere. And I know it sounds hyperbolic, but her influence is so pervasive. When we talk about what good singing sounds like, we're really talking about what Aretha Franklin's singing sounds like.

You can obviously hear it in a Beyonce or Mary J. Blige or Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey or an Usher or I could keep naming names for the next two hours. Her influence is so (INAUDIBLE). It's like the air we breathe. It's almost cruel in a sense because what she did became such a part of American song, how we sing, how we listen.

[12:45:03] You hear it at your community talent show, whenever someone summons the bravery to try take a syllable on Aretha Franklin's roller coaster ride. It's wherever.

KING: Chris Richards and Marc Lamont Hill, really appreciate your thoughts on this important day. Appreciate both of you coming in and sharing that with us.

The queen of soul remembered. Here's Aretha Franklin performing at the Kennedy Center.


[12:50:28] KING: April 4th, 1968. There you see the widow Coretta Scott King, Aretha Franklin performing at funeral of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the country mourns today the loss felt perhaps more than in most places, in the city of Detroit. Aretha Franklin was their national treasure.

Motown Museum in Detroit releasing the statement on the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. "Aretha was an international music icon, an unmatched talent who deserved every bit of her status as the queen of soul. Her legacy will continue to inspire and resonate in the souls of Detroiters and her fans around the world."

Joining me now, the chairwoman and CEO of the Motown Museum Robin Terry.

Robin, it's a hard thing to do, but put Aretha Franklin especially in the context of your city, in the context of your museum, in the context of your music. Put her into context.

ROBIN TERRY, CHAIRWOMAN AND CEO, MOTOWN MUSEUM: I think Aretha Franklin is simply -- you know, she's a part of our DNA. And there's no better way to say it. Aretha Franklin has represented the highest level of artistic achievement, excellence, community, activism. And, you know, we're honored that Detroit was home for her. And so today our hearts are saddened because, you know, we feel like we lost a really important part of ourselves.

KING: Robin, I want you to stand by just one second. My apologies here. But as the tributes flow in from around the world, just moments ago at the White House, this from the president of the United States, Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I want to begin today by expressing my condolences to the family of a person I knew well. She worked for me on numerous occasions. She was terrific. Aretha Franklin, on her passing.

She's brought joy to millions of lives, and her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come. She was given a great gift from God, her voice, and she used it well. People loved Aretha. She's a special woman. So I just want to pass on my warmest, best wishes and sympathies to her family.


KING: That's the president of the United States at the White House a short time ago. Former President Clinton, former President Obama have also weighed in. Robin Terry, CEO of the Motown Museum. Of course, no disrespect intended to any of the current president or former presidents as we listen to them today. What I've been struck by most is our -- the pastor at the church where her father ministered, where we first learned the grace of her. Some of my colleagues here who say Aretha Franklin would e-mail them or text them or call them. African- Americans, young, coming up in the business, saying stay at it, I'm proud of your work.

Do we miss that part of her? What part of that do you see at the museum? How do you celebrated that part, not just the music?

TERRY: I think it's -- I mean, people come to the museum from all over the world. And it is -- you know, I think part of what was so endearing about Aretha Franklin is that she was this iconic celebrity but at the same time never lost her common touch. And so for Detroiters, you know, she was that girl around the corner. You know, she was just part of the neighborhood, and an important part of the community.

KING: And to that point about her wanting to keep her roots in the community, wanting to help the community, she performed at your 20th anniversary at the Motown Museum. Tell us about that.

TERRY: She did. I mean, many people thought that Aretha Franklin, and rightly, so was a part of -- was signed to Motown. She was never signed to Motown Records. But she was absolutely a part of the Motown family and participated in many of the festivities that we do at Motown Museum because that was -- that's family to her.

People like Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops Temptations, those were her brothers. And so for us to honor her and to mourn her as the rest of the world, is only appropriate.

KING: And what will the museum do to be part of that remembrance?

TERRY: So we will be playing Aretha's music all weekend. People come from all over the world. We will be celebrating her life, her legacy by playing her music. Visitors will have an opportunity to write their own memories and notes of condolence to the family. And we will make that book of all of those comments from all over the world available to her family.

KING: Let me ask you a personal question. What did Aretha Franklin mean to you?

[12:55:03] TERRY: Oh, my gosh. It was -- again, as Motown or Detroit royalty and music royalty, I think she just -- I think she encourages everyone, and myself included, just to strive for excellence, to strive to be the best.

KING: Robin Terry, CEO of the Motown Museum, appreciate your thoughts today. Best of luck as you try to remember this remarkable woman, icon of your city, icon of the country, icon of global music.

Thanks for joining us for this hour of INSIDE POLITICS. We appreciate your patience with us today as we deal with this breaking news.

Jim Sciutto is in today for Wolf Blitzer. He picks up coverage after this break. And as we go to break, a little more Aretha.