Clive Davis reflects on his decades of friendship with Aretha Franklin: "I just felt special"

Clive Davis reflects on Aretha Franklin

Some of the biggest names in music are honoring Aretha Franklin as part of a special airing Sunday night that pays tribute to the late singer. "Aretha: A GRAMMY Celebration For The Queen Of Soul" was co-produced by Clive Davis, who sat down with Anthony Mason to talk about the legendary singer he was friends with for four decades.

Franklin already had a decade of hits behind her when she met Davis in 1979. He was a veteran record executive by then, running the Arista label. He got a call from her while she was "in a bit of a slump."

"But she was the Queen of Soul and she said, 'You know, I'm nearing 40. And I'm nervous that you can't have hits after 40. And I said 'Listen to me, you're timeless.'" 

Davis signed Aretha, and in 1982 helped her get back on the charts with "Jump To It."

"She ran scared, like all great artists do. She got nervous. She was a perfectionist. When she came to the studio she knew every line. She would only do three takes. I mean no other artist does fewer takes than what Aretha did," Davis said.

In 1985, when "Freeway of Love" gave Franklin her biggest hit in a dozen years, her comeback was complete. Davis, who has never liked business dinners, always made an exception for her.

"I, too, always knew that Aretha was history. And I just knew that as much as we could share and soak up, it was special. I just felt special," Davis said.

In return, Franklin honored Davis by appearing at a Friar's Club tribute to him.

"The curtain goes up and there's Aretha in a tutu and she is surrounded by 12 members of the City Center Ballet," he recalled. "She had taken this so seriously and for two months she had rehearsed with the City Center Ballet. And before she sang gloriously, she did do this ballet that, as I said, I'll never forget. So there are many sides of Aretha."

"A GRAMMY Celebration For The Queen Of Soul" features Jennifer Hudson and John Legend.

"It's important that her legacy be preserved. … That we all understand there might not ever be another Aretha Franklin."

"Aretha: A GRAMMY Celebration For The Queen Of Soul" airs on Sunday, March 10, at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.