When celebrity author Mark Bego originally wrote his 1989 biography, “Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul,” he had no idea that it would be updated three times, the latest being the new “Tribute Edition” of the book by Skyhorse Publishing, which puts her career in perspective since her death at 76 in August.
The press called this book the “definitive” work on Franklin’s life. The new edition was released Sept. 18, and it instantly hit No. 1 on Amazon.com based on advance sales. It is Bego’s 63rd book, following his 2017 celebrity cookbook “Eat Like a Rock Star.”
What sets this book apart is that Mark was able to interview Franklin at her Bloomfield Hills, Michigan home at the height of her “Freeway of Love” recording resurgence.
“It wasn’t just an interview,” recalls Bego. “It felt like an official visitation with the Queen of Soul. She even gave me a tour of her garden.”
Then Mark was able to personally interview dozens of Franklin’s co-workers, producers, and friends. In addition he spoke to Aretha’s record producers from each area of her recording eras.
From the Columbia Records days in the ’60s is Clyde Otis, from her Atlantic Records years it is Jerry Wexler, and from the Arista era he interviewed Clive Davis. Bego also spoke to longtime friends of Aretha’s including Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves, Freda Payne and Sarah Dash.
Adds Bego, “This book has been a true labor of love for me.”
TheImproper sat down with Bego to talk about Franklin and her legacy.
IM: How will the legacy Aretha Franklin has created continue to inspire us?
Bego: The most obvious way Franklin’s legacy will continue will be her brilliant library of recordings. Her career was so multi-faceted. She recorded jazz and standards in the early ’60s at Columbia Records. She redefined the word ‘soul’ in the late ’60s and ’70s, and in the ’80s she became the high-powered rocker who took us down ‘The Freeway of Love,’ and scored duet hits with Keith Richards, The Eurythmics, Elton John, and George Michael.
IM: Aretha’s funeral was a star-studded event. How was it unique?
Bego: Since Aretha knew for several months that her health was going downhill, she wanted a Motor City spectacle of grand scale. In addition to being eulogized by Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, and a sea of other notable people, Aretha was commemorated in song by Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, Faith Hill, Fantasia, and Chaka Khan. The whole ploy of making it a three day open-casket event, complete with three outfit changes, made this the unforgettable funeral event of the year. It was fittingly a funeral fit for a queen!
IM: Who is going to end up with Aretha’s money, especially since she left no will?
Bego: Certainly there will be bills to pay before any dispersion of funds takes place, but to have amassed an estimated $80 million fortune, I would have thought she would want to know where it was going. Her youngest son, Kecalf (48), has been the one to file the necessary papers for Oakland County Probate Court in Michigan, to have Aretha’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens appointed as the conservator.
IM: What is the fate going to be of her children?
Bego: I am pretty confident that the Probate Court will divide the estate equally between Aretha’s four children, including middle sons Edward (61) and Teddy (54). Oldest son, Clarence (63), who has had lifelong mental health issues, will assuredly receive the funds of the medical care he needs to live out his life in comfort. He has his own court appointed guardian and conservator to make decisions for him.
IM: What will her fans miss about her now that she is gone?
Bego: I feel that her public will miss her indomitable spirit, and following her many eccentricities. Aretha Franklin was an original and a true ‘character’ who did everything her way. That included some of her wardrobe choices which were often low-cut to show ample amounts of flesh. No one could tell Aretha what to do!
IM: How will Aretha be remembered?
Bego: The most obvious thing Aretha leaves behind is that wealth of incredible music. She was someone with incredible drive, who had the ability to stretch out into unexpected areas. Her role as a demanding waitress threatening a boyfriend with an over-the-top version of her hit “Think,” in the film The Blues Brothers, shows off one very real side of Aretha. But in my mind, the moment she truly blew everyone away with her talent was when she filled in for Luciano Pavarotti on The Grammy Awards, sang the operatic aria “Nessun Dorma,” and positively ‘nailed it!’”
IM: How do you think Aretha would like to be remembered?
Bego: She was show business royalty. Aretha took her undisputed role as “The Queen of Soul” very seriously. As a person I think that she would like to be remembered as someone who was a truly unique. She was someone who spoke her mind, and who stood up for her rights, and everyone’s rights as well. Her life wasn’t always easy. She felt dominated by the men in her life. She will always be remembered someone who commanded the kind of treatment she wanted, and she will always have our utmost “Respect.”
IM: Is it true that Aretha had many feuds with other soul divas?
Bego: Aretha was famous for her long-running feuds with several of her contemporary divas, especially Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, and Beyoncé. Although she had a problem with Diana Ross as well, she remained friends with Supreme star Mary Wilson. Franklin once struck up a friendship with Whitney Houston, who was the daughter of her friend Cissy Houston. However, when she found out how deeply involved in drugs that Whitney was, Aretha wanted nothing to do with the self-destructive diva. “The Queen of Soul” could choose to give people her favor, and she could always take it away at will.
IM: Was there a recipe from Aretha in your best-selling cookbook, Eat Like a Rock Star?
Bego: It was no secret that Aretha loved her food. When I wrote my 2017 cookbook, Eat Like a Rock Star, several people asked me if it would contain a recipe from Franklin. The one Aretha recipe I did have was: “Several sticks of butter, one chicken, a frying pan and a sprig of rosemary.” Ultimately I did not use it, as it sounded like a potential heart attack on a plate!”
IM: The interview you did with Aretha at her suburban Detroit home in 1985 was the genesis of your book. How was she as a hostess?
Bego: It was no secret that Aretha loved her food. When I interviewed her at her house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, she had me pause the tape recorder while she went to the kitchen. Then she came back to the sofa and she told me to ask her a couple more questions. She did this three times. The last time, she stuck her head around the corner from the kitchen and said, “Chicken’s done. Interview’s over. Goodbye.” I was never offered so much as a chicken wing!
The book “Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul” / “Tribute Edition” is being rushed to bookstores by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. It has updated photos, an updated discography, and several new elements.
“I’ve been a fan of Aretha’s music since I first wrote about her ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ album in my record review column in the campus newspaper while in college. I can legitimately say, I have been writing Aretha’s story since 1972,” Bego says.
Celebrity author Mark Bego had only days to update his in-depth biography, “Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul” / “Tribute Edition,” and it has already hit No. 1 on one of Amazon.com’s Best Seller lists. The moment Bego heard that Aretha was “gravely ill,” he started work on a new beginning and a new ending to this engrossing biography. This is the fourth incarnation of Mark’s popular book which was originally published in 1989.