As sure as she can wail, Aretha Franklin can also talk piles of shit on her diva peers. Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Luther Vandross, and Celine Dion are just a few of the bold-faced names who’ve felt Aretha’s wrath and/or shade. Aretha? Sometimes it’s more like A-beef-a.
Her latest involves a lengthy fax, a seemingly innocuous comment made at Whitney Houston’s 2012 funeral, and a thwarted hug backstage at last week’s Clive Davis tribute show following the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives. The target is none other than fellow living legend Dionne Warwick, whose wig Aretha previously snatched when she recorded “I Say a Little Prayer” within months of Dionne’s rendition hitting the Top 10. (Aretha’s ingenious arrangement of that song was ultimately dubbed the definitive version by its writer, Burt Bacharach.) Aretha’s version was released in the fall of 1968, which means this beef has been cooking for almost a half of a century.
“She blatantly lied on me ... fully well knowing what she was doing,” Aretha Franklin said in a phone interview.
Franklin called The Associated Press on Tuesday, after sending a lengthy fax the day before, to address what she claimed was a “libelous” statement against her made five years ago at Houston’s funeral. At the time, Warwick told funeral-goers that Franklin was there and introduced her, but then realized she wasn’t in attendance.
“’Ree’s not here, but she is here,” Warwick said, referring to Franklin by a nickname. “She loves Whitney as if she were born to her. She is her godmother.”
This misconception did not originate there—it was one of those things people said (apparently without checking) for years. In 2015, Whitney’s mother and Aretha’s fried/occasional collaborator Cissy Houston was asked if Aretha was Whitney’s godmother in a WBLS interview. “Not really,” said Cissy. “She was just a dear, good friend of mine. And we were always around. And everybody called everybody everything.” Seems like a reasonable explanation!
Franklin apparently told the AP that she was too busy to be anyone’s godmother (again, reasonable) and that she felt Dionne’s comment at Whitney’s funeral was damaging:
“There’s been so much going on around her (Houston), around the service, around the drugs, around her and Bobby (Brown) supposed to be fighting, I didn’t want to add anything to that and I didn’t want to be a part of that,” she said.
Five years later, Franklin feels that time is now.
Just one of those feuds to save in your back pocket for a rainy day.
But how has this manifested itself in real life, you may be wondering. Funny you should ask! At the Clive Davis event last week, Aretha apparently refused to hug Dionne:
“She said, ‘Give me a hug.’ I said, ‘Oh hell no. You couldn’t be serious,’” Franklin said.
When asked if she wanted an apology from Warwick, she said: “I don’t care about her apology, at this point it isn’t about an apology, it’s about libel.”
She added: “We’ve never been friends and I don’t think that Dionne has ever liked me.”
I love the idea of someone asking for a hug and telling them, “Oh hell no. You couldn’t be serious.” Yet again, Aretha Franklin is living the life I can only dream of.
Dionne Warwick refused to comment to the AP on this story:
Warwick’s representative Angelo Ellerbee said: “She will not dignify a response to the statement made by Aretha Franklin.”
I am on the edge of my seat wondering how this will all pan out.