Graham: Even in her later years, Aretha stayed current
From her fanfare of "American Idol" to her collaborations with today's pop stars, Aretha was never far in the rearview
Aretha Franklin loved "American Idol." The Queen of Soul was so wrapped up in the singing competition that during its run, in 2012, she offered herself up for the role of judge.
Producers never bit — that timeless singer Nicki Minaj was apparently a better hire — but the fact that Franklin threw her own hat in the ring showed the strides she made to stay current, and to stay relevant.
Franklin's hitmaking era dried up in the late '80s; her last No. 1 pop hit was her George Michael duet "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" in 1987. She scored a pair of Top 40 hits in the 1990s, but both topped out at No. 26.
Those '90s songs, however, showed Franklin's willingness to collaborate with younger artists and stay entrenched in the realm of popular music.
Babyface authored her 1994 single "Willing to Forgive," while Lauryn Hill penned "A Rose is Still a Rose," the title track to Franklin's album of the same name, in 1998.
"A Rose is Still a Rose" also featured songs written by Puff Daddy, Jermaine Dupri and Dallas Austin. All were influenced by Franklin — everyone who ever set foot in the music business was influenced by Franklin, either directly or indirectly — and Franklin was able to take cues from them as well, updating her style with a hip-hop influenced sound (and Puffy's "uhh, yeah" ad-libs).
Franklin's 2003 album "So Damn Happy" featured a pair of duets with Mary J. Blige, who was coming off of her "No More Drama" success at the time. The Queen of Soul and the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul first teamed up in 1999, on the Babyface-penned "Don't Waste Your Time" from Blige's "Mary" album, and they teamed again on 2007's "Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen," which also featured collaborations with Fantasia and John Legend.
Franklin's 2014 album "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics" featured standards such as "At Last" and "Midnight Train to Georgia," but also nodded to the present with a cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" — hilariously dubbed "Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)," as if you didn't know — as well as a jazzy cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U," produced by OutKast's Andre 3000.
While her "Idol" dream never came true — it would have been worth it for the shade-throwing gifs alone — Franklin did have a presence on the show.
Many contestants covered Franklin's songs over the years, including Kelly Clarkson, who performed a show-stopping rendition of "(You Make Me Feel LIke) A Natural Woman" during the show's first season, which cemented Clarkson's status as the season's talent to watch. If she could sing Aretha, she could sing anything.
In 2013, Franklin appeared on "Idol's" finale, performing with the show's female finalists via satellite. it was an awkward performance to be sure, but singing with the Queen is singing with the Queen, even if she's doing it from a studio 2000 miles away.
Franklin mentored the "Idol" contestants in 2015 when the show visited the Motor City, and she shared her music industry wisdom with the young singers as only she could.
"She told us to watch our money. That's what she said, 'Watch your money.' It was pretty funny," Mark Andrew, one of the season's finalists, said at the time. "You've got to be careful with who you surround yourself with, I think that's what she was trying to convey. Have the right people around you so you can thrive as an artist in this industry. And she's been through it all, so she's the one to tell us that."
She accrued plenty of knowledge and wisdom from her 50-plus years in the music industry, and she was always willing to share with younger generations. And she was willing to learn from them, too, which helped keep her relevant in the music business right up until the day she left us.