Davis worked closely with Franklin for more than 30 years and had a hand in many of her late-career successes. “When I sat down in her kitchen, when I had dinner with Aretha in 1979, she already was, of course, the Queen of Soul,” he recalled. “…We talked into the night about the next five years … Much of music had changed. Could she still compete?”
“There was no doubt in Aretha’s mind [that she could compete], and frankly there was no doubt in my mind,” Davis continued. “I signed her to Arista Records, and five years turned into more than three decades.” During this period, Franklin experienced a commercial resurgence, scoring hits throughout the Eighties and again in the Nineties.
Davis described Franklin as “a true genius of American music.” “Over the course of my life, I’ve been blessed to spend time with the presidents of countries, presidents of successful trend-setting companies,” he said. “I’ve spent time with many successful artists, writers, movie makers. Most of these individuals have affected the world in some way. But Aretha is in her own very special category.”
Though many speakers at the funeral praised Franklin’s peerless voice, Davis also remembered her fearsome work ethic. She had “the drive of a total perfectionist,” he explained. “After we decided on the songs for an ensuing album, she would go into Aretha mode … By the time she came into the studio, she literally owned the song. Everyone in the studio would be in awe of her mastery when she stepped up to the microphone. It was a real rarity if she ever did more than two takes.”
Davis also remembered Franklin’s “keen wit,” her “great sense of humor” and her wide-ranging interests — in ballet, in opera, in food.
“She was a true renaissance woman,” he concluded. “I will deeply miss that once in a lifetime voice.”
After a commercial downturn in the second half of the Seventies, Franklin left her longtime label Atlantic Records to move to Arista. Her first release on the new label was her 1980 eponymous LP. In 1982, she teamed up with the ace singer-songwriter-producer Luther Vandross for Jump to It, which became Franklin’s first gold-certified album since 1976. She one-upped herself in 1985 with Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, which sold over a million copies, and remained on Arista until the release of 2003’s So Damn Happy.
When Franklin died earlier this month, Davis remembered her on Twitter. “I’m absolutely devastated by Aretha’s passing,” he wrote. “She was truly one of a kind. She was more than the Queen of Soul. She was a national treasure to be cherished by every generation throughout the world. Apart from our long professional relationship, Aretha was my friend. Her loss is deeply profound and my heart is full of sadness.”