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February 22, 2018

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Aretha Franklin is still singing and loving life at 70 — er, 55!


Aretha Franklin attends George Wallace’s show at the Flamingo.

Aretha Frankin Nessun Dorma 1998 Grammys

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Aretha Franklin.

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Aretha Franklin.

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Aretha Franklin.

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In this July 26, 2010, file photo, Aretha Franklin is shown in Philadelphia.

Music legend Aretha Franklin certainly has R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and not only because she’s beloved as the Queen of Soul. The lovely lady was named #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and received an honorary doctorate of music from Princeton, only one of six to date.

But one of the greatest stars of our time who was the first woman honored by the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame has one dream remaining: She wants to be a judge on a TV talent show -- “The Voice” or “American Idol.”

To this day, Aretha has never flown on a plane, and she still doesn’t plan on it. Just before she left New Orleans for Las Vegas on her tour bus, she and I chatted about this Sunday’s concert at Caesars Palace, her personal and industry accomplishments and other revelations.

Aretha and I are the same age, but she was quick to remind me that she thinks, acts and believes that she’s only 55. She and I once played tennis at her Detroit estate, but with age comes forgotten memories, and we both laughed that neither of us could remember who won.

Aretha is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. She can sing “America” at President Obama’s presidential inauguration or “Precious Lord” at her New Bethel Baptist Church in her hometown of Detroit or “Chain of Fools” at WrestleMania or “Nessun Dorma” last minute, like she legendarily and memorably did for her ailing friend Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards in 1998.

Record books may well say she’s 70, but she’s still rocking, and Rolling Stone also gave her the #1 spot on its 50 Greatest Albums of All Time for her 1967 record “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.”

If you ever get the privilege to meet Aretha, just don’t bring up the fact that her career has lasted more than half a century with 38 bestselling albums and that she has in fact celebrated her 70th birthday.

Here is the gospel according to Aretha:

“I’m doing fabulous, just fabulous. I’m healthy, wise and still working. Fifty-five is wonderful, isn’t it? This might be my fourth Caesars Palace appearance. Just coming with the hits, coming with just absolutely gorgeous gowns, coming with my dancers. It’s going to be a rock em,’ sock em,’ all-hits night.

“I‘m on my custom bus, which I really enjoy and driving in from New Orleans. There was a music festival Sunday, and I’m now coming into Las Vegas for this Sunday. I’m doing a little private affair while there with you, and then on to Los Angeles for ‘The Tonight Show’ on July 23 and the Nokia on July 25. I’m in Las Vegas for a few days. I’m gonna kick around and see if I can get me a couple of Fatburgers and catch a couple of shows. I’m on a diet, but I can have a burger every now and then!”

Robin Leach: Aretha, the honor, the thrill, the emotion when you were named #1 female singer of all time anywhere in the world. What did that do to you?

Aretha Franklin: It’s the kind of thing where you felt “My God!” And you just clasp your heart, you know what I’m saying? Whoa! You can’t really go any higher than that, can you? Maybe a little bit -- there’s some little something around the corner, I can’t talk about it right now, but there’s something around the corner. I did just receive that wonderful degree from Princeton and by Yale just before that, and I had a delightful day at the President’s Dinner.

R.L.: You sound very well. You sound happy, healthy and very contented. All of those things true at 70 years of age?

A.F.: Absolutely! Absolutely; I’m seasoned and am only slowing down just a little bit. I’m not doing the same number of dates monthly that I used to only because I choose not to. I want to spend more time in my home and doing more in my home and working with my son Eddie, who I am producing now. He’s going to have a super R&B album coming out in the fall. Just hanging out with my little grandchildren and a lot of family time.

R.L.: Aretha, when this long journey started, when you were a teenager, did you ever think it would lead to all of this respect and recognition?

A.F.: Definitely not. Some of the things that have happened you know just never crossed my mind. That it would be that great and that good. Twenty Grammys -- “whoa, please!” -- and the Congressional Medal, the Medal of the Arts presented by President Clinton, singing for Mr. Obama at the inauguration, George Bush of course gave me the congressional medal. Too much -- I’m really truly, truly, truly blessed.

R.L.: What do you put it all down to? Obviously the good Lord blessed you with the most remarkable voice on Earth, but you still might not have accomplished all of this. What was it? Your tenacity? Your beliefs? Your pride? What in your own soul as the Queen of Soul brought you to this magical time of your life?

A.F.: Some of it I was blessed with, inherited from my mother who was a singer and so was my dad, and some of it just God given. My love for the music and super loyal fans and support from family and friends. The underlying message for the achievements has always been respect -- respect for the music, love of the music.

I still haven’t been on “American Idol” or “The Voice,” though. I’d love to be a mentor. It seems that each time I come to the West Coast, they’re just going on vacation, so we can never get to do anything together. I come West at a certain time of year, and when I like to come is when they’re going. That’s happened at least two or three times now. I watched Gladys Knight on “Dancing With the Stars.” I can dance, I can definitely dance, but I don’t think I’d really care to take that one on. But yes on “American Idol.”

R.L.: Talk for one brief moment about your health because there have been lots of worrying stories. Are you strong and well?

A.F.: Absolutely all is well, and I’m maintaining my weight. I have to work at it, though, I have to work to maintain. There’s a combination of things that I do. Walking is certainly one of them, but I have to work at it.

R.L.: If you look back over the 70 years, Aretha, what are the one or two things that you’re proudest of all? You look back and say, “I’m glad I did that.”

A.F.: Who’s 70, Robin?! Now 55 years! Let’s see, I am proudest of my children and my support of them and trying to lead them to their independence and to realize some of their hopes and dreams. The other side of the coin would be certainly the 20 Grammys, the Congressional Medal and Medal of the Arts. And my longevity in the industry.

There are a lot of people now who seem to come and go after very brief runs of stardom. There are some who are lasting and will be around a while. I certainly enjoy Usher, Beyonce, Chris Brown, and there is Fantasia; these people will be around a while. They’ve got it. They’ve got the “it” factor. I guess that I was fortunate to get some of it, too. I’ll still be around for a while, too!”

Aretha’s concert is a one-night-only engagement at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Long live the Queen of Soul!

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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