Aretha Franklin and Clive Davis reunite for ‘Diva Classics’

Aretha Franklin, shown at a recent preview in New York of her new album, "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics," reunited with producer Clive Davis on the project.
(Brad Barket / Invision / Associated Press)

Music mogul Clive Davis might be forgiven for sounding a bit emotional about “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics,” the new album produced by Davis that arrives Tuesday.

In it, she takes on iconic songs by other female singers, among them Etta James’ “At Last,” Barbra Streisand’s “People,” Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” as well as a couple more recent numbers, such as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Alicia Keys’ “No One.”

It’s shaping up as another key moment in Franklin’s half-century-plus recording career, artistically and potentially commercially rejuvenating her once again, the way Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler did after she’d languished for a couple of years at Columbia Records, and the way Davis himself did in the ‘80s in putting her back on the map with such hits as “Freeway of Love,” “Jump to It” and “Get It Right” after signing her to his Arista label.

Citing two of Franklin’s ‘60s and ‘70s hits that had first been recorded by others, Davis said: “‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ obviously that’s a classic example. When she did that [in 1971], she took it to a whole different place. When she did ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ [in 1968, after Dionne Warwick’s version], she took a record that had been a classic, and was still a classic, and made it her own.”

Franklin ignores genre boundaries, bringing R&B, soul and jazz elements in renditions of songs strongly associated with other singers, offering up a virtual master class in vocal reinterpretation.


She also finds connective threads between different songs. Her version of “I’m Every Woman,” Khan’s 1978 hit, morphs into an updated take on Otis Redding’s “Respect,” and later she segues between Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Destiny’s Child’s “I’m a Survivor.”

During her appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” on Sept. 29, she blended “Rolling in the Deep” with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” drawing both raves and jabs in the nearly 4 million hits the clip has generated across NBC, YouTube and Vevo sites.

“When an artist is as established as she, every so often, I’m motivated by the strong desire not only of the thrill of discovery -- and I’ve had my share of those -- but to extend careers of the greats,” Davis, 82, said. “How long can the career of a great talent last? So I came up with this concept [for the album] and I’ve been talking to her about it for a few years when we were not working together. She had to be ready to do it.

“To hear this woman come back, and you hear one after another, and her voice is in peak form,” Davis said. “If I can, without gushing, it’s historic.”

Calendar will have a full story on Franklin’s latest project in the days ahead. Meanwhile, watch her performance from Letterman’s show above.

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