This wasn't supposed to be a milestone year in the Aretha Franklin annals.
But 2011, which began shrouded in health mystery before blossoming into a rousing resurgence for Franklin, turned out to be just that. And today the iconic Detroit singer is bright and upbeat as she reflects on a year of physical slimming and emotional growth.
"Itâ€™s a kind of growth that just comes with time," she said. â€śAnd Iâ€™ve felt really, really great.â€ť
The public wasnâ€™t sure it would get to this point: This time last year, Franklinâ€™s global fan base held its breath as she underwent an undisclosed medical procedure that forced her out of view for months. With friends such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson jetting to her side, the Christmas season â€” Franklinâ€™s favorite time of the year â€” took on a downcast tone.
This yuletide finds the singer in dramatically different spirits. Amid a steady schedule of public appearances, sheâ€™s been exercising, carving out time for quiet domestic life and enjoying an inner peace. Thatâ€™s not just Franklinâ€™s take: Friends and associates say the new vibe is unmistakable.
She came back roaring
You might say the Queen of Soul is back to being Aretha. When she hasnâ€™t been gearing up for the holidays at home in Bloomfield Hills, Franklin has spent her month in New York, where sheâ€™s been â€śpounding Fifth Avenue, pounding Madison Avenue, all the little shops on the side streets, investigating all the out-of-the-way places,â€ť she said. â€śI look for the mom-and-pop shops â€” the good cheeseburgers. I always try to discover a new place here, wherever the best aromas are coming from.â€ť
Next year will bring her 70th birthday and a handful of key projects, including a likely reunion with music executive Clive Davis and work on her own label, Arethaâ€™s Records, where she hopes to groom a new generation of classical singers.
Franklin and her representatives still wonâ€™t elaborate on her hospitalization. She has denied reports of pancreatic cancer and rumors of weight-reduction surgery, calling her 85-pound loss â€śgradual.â€ť
Whatever it was, she came back roaring: The spring brought a round of touring, her first album of new material in eight years (â€śA Woman Falling Out of Loveâ€ť), and a benchmark boxed set (â€śTake a Lookâ€ť) that compiled all of her early Columbia Records work for the first time.
The music world welcomed her with a mix of enthusiasm and relief. Franklin re-emerged in February, trim and lucid in a taped opening segment for the Grammy Awards, where stars such as Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson kicked off the night with a Queen of Soul medley. Three months later, she brought down the house with â€śAmazing Graceâ€ť on Oprah Winfreyâ€™s final show, and in November was honored with a week-long tribute at the Hall of Fame.
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