Aretha Franklin rarely did interviews during her career, and if you were lucky enough to get an interview, a lot was off limits.
Indeed, Franklin's uniquely powerful voice and incredible catalog of R&B, soul and pop hits is all most people know about the singer. So when Franklin passed away Thursday of cancer at age 76, it left many fans wondering who she really way.
That's why one afternoon in 1985 is so important to the story of the Queen of Soul — and it almost didn't happen.
Writer Mark Bego spent nearly three hours interviewing Franklin in her Detroit home in the mid-'80s, but he was only there because the host that was initially scheduled to conduct the interview had the flu!
Bego tells 710 WOR's Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning he just happened to be nearby; Franklin's publicist wouldn't let someone with the flu near the singer.
"It was an amazing experience that I'll never forget," Bego tells the show. "We talked about all sorts of things about her music. Actually I was sent to her house to do this interview and I was given a list of things that I could not talk about: her sons, her father, her childhood, her smoking, her weight, everything but her music."
We know precious little about Franklin's personal life but enough to know she had a fascinating story to tell if she was so inclined. Bego built his book, Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul, around breadcrumbs from his lone interview with Franklin, as well as interviews with close friends and collaborators of hers.
What he ended up with was a balanced picture of who Franklin was as a person, an artist and a lot of unanswered questions about the pain in her past.
Franklin had two children by the age of 15, but she never publicly revealed the identity of their father. The singer's relationships with men were complicated, Bego says.
"It set up a pattern with her; she had a glorious, very out-front role at her father's church," he said. "But she also kind of had a very guarded personal life; she felt all her life that she was taken advantage of by the men in her life. She would never speak about who was the father of those first two children. Her father was very domineering in her life; she got married so she would have her own private life, and she married a man who physically abused her. So by the time she got to Atlantic Records, she really knew how to sing the blues."
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