Staples, who was an important voice for civil rights in the Chicago-based family band the Staple Singers, refers to Franklin as “Ree” as she remembers the Queen of Soul’s musical legacy. Staples and Franklin initially met in 1960 in Los Angeles, where they became friends.
“She was really a young girl. I didn’t think it was that amazing that she was singing as a young girl — we both were young and we sang and I just thought that’s what you did,” Staples said. “It was the fact that she was so young, and she could deliver a song like that with so much feeling and so directly.”
Staples was amazed by Franklin’s voice and range because that specific song wasn’t the easiest to sing. “She just had it from the beginning, from Day One. She was just special,” Staples added.
The 79-year-old Staples said that even though Franklin may have crossed over into R&B, her music always had her gospel ethos.
“Back in the day it was just accepted for you to be a gospel singer and switch over to R&B and blues or whatever,” Staples said. “But Aretha, I don’t care: Right today, whatever song I hear her singing, I still hear her gospel in it. You can’t lose that; that was home for her.”
While Staples didn’t see Franklin as much as they got older, they did reconnect about six months ago, before Staples’ sister Yvonne died in April. The last time she spoke with the “Natural Woman” singer was in June.
“She told me she was going back in the hospital. Told me some things I won’t repeat, but we had a good talk. So I knew that this was coming. She practically told me. She told me how she was feeling. When we got off the phone, I started praying because I knew that the time wouldn’t be long,” Staples said.