Aretha Franklin — Queen of Soul, nemesis of one Patti LaBelle — is not to be trifled with. Just when it seemed like Olivia de Havilland served the greatest piece of power correspondence of 2017, the “Respect” singer sent a fax — a! fax! — to the Associated Press to clarify that Dionne Warwick is libelous and that, despite years of reports to the contrary, she wasn’t Whitney Houston’s godmother because she didn’t have the time.
It’s well documented that there are levels to Aretha Franklin’s ability to be petty. The story of the fax begins at Whitney Houston’s funeral, when Dionne Warwick made the mistake of shading the Queen. “Ree’s not here, but she is here,” Warwick said during the service, using a nickname for Aretha. “She loves Whitney as if she were born to her. She is her godmother.” There’s the libel, according to Aretha. She was not Whitney Houston’s godmother: “Franklin said she first met Houston when Houston was a child — and she was far too busy to be anyone’s godmother,” the AP reported. Did you catch that? Aretha Franklin, goddess divine, was far too busy to be anyone’s godmother, not even Whitney Houston’s. And she sent a fax to the Associated Press to clarify this.
Aretha wasn’t at Whitney Houston’s funeral, however (she said she was contractually obligated to perform at Radio City Music Hall that evening). She also said she didn’t feel it was appropriate to correct Warwick’s behavior at the time because of the attention surrounding Houston’s death. So for five years Aretha Franklin, player of the long game, has been biding her time. On Monday that all changed: After she had a sour interaction with Warwick at a Tribeca Film Festival event, she sent a fax to the Associated Press to set the record straight. On Tuesday, she called the AP’s offices herself to make sure they got the story straight: She was never Whitney Houston’s godmother. Dionne Warwick’s statement at the funeral was libel.
So what happened at the Tribeca Film Festival that confirmed it was time for Aretha to snatch up this narrative? According to Aretha, Warwick approached her backstage at the festival’s Clive Davis gala. “[Warwick] said, ‘Give me a hug,’” Franklin told the AP. “I said, ‘Oh hell no. You couldn’t be serious.’” That was the final straw. “I don’t care about her apology, at this point it isn’t about an apology, it’s about libel,” Aretha Franklin told the AP. Warwick’s reps said she wouldn’t respond to Franklin’s claims. For the record, to paraphrase George Jackson: Hey, Aretha, fax one to me.