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FOR ARETHA FRANKLIN, NO TURNING BACK

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has a lot on her royal agenda this summer.

She sang at the wedding of Vice President Gore's daughter, has a new album coming out, and will appear in a sequel to the "Blues Brothers" movie. To relax, Franklin said she is looking forward to "walking 18 holes with Tiger Woods."

Say what?

Yes, Franklin said she's planning to hit the links with Woods, though it was a bit unclear whether "walking" with Tiger also means playing with Tiger.

"I'd call myself an occasional golfer," Franklin said in a phone interview. "I go to the driving range, hit a few balls. Then I'll walk a few holes just for the exercise."

Franklin described the still-untitled new album, whose producers include rap mastermind Sean "Puffy" Combs, as "very contemporary, very, very sharp."

She brushed aside the question of whether she had to compete with her own formidable legend these days.

"Oh, my fans have grown along with me, musically and otherwise," she said.

She apparently has some high-powered fans in Washington. Not only did she sing at the Gore wedding (an opera selection from "La Boheme," and "Don't You Know"), but she also performed at President Clinton's first inauguration festivities.

So the president must be a fan.

"Do you think he's a fan?" Franklin asked. "I don't know . . . he's a (baby) boomer, I'm a boomer. We're of the same generation; we'll never grow old."

Aging aside, Franklin's place in music history is assured.

Born to a gospel family -- her father was the Rev. C.L. Franklin, a renowned minister in Detroit -- she sang in church as a girl, and even then her vocal power was obvious.

She was originally signed to Columbia Records, which never found a way to harness her talents. Atlantic Records hooked her up with producer Jerry Wexler, and Franklin was able to infuse pop songs with the power and passion of gospel.

Her music also connected to the larger culture. Franklin's commanding hits, such as her version of Otis Redding's "Respect," struck a chord with an increasingly proud and assertive black community in the late '60s.

Now, Franklin said, there are plans to remake "Respect" for the new Blues Brothers movie "Blues Brothers 2000." (Franklin said she wasn't sure who would play the John Belushi role in the new film.)

It's going to be mighty hard to improve on "Respect," one of Franklin's signature songs.

"It'd better be better . . . it'd better be better," Franklin said, implying that she's holding producer Paul Shaffer, of "Late Night With David Letterman" fame, to some high standards.

"I liked the original, too. The feel, the rhythm, were all just right."

Franklin, 55, has her share of quirks. She hasn't been on an airplane, for example, since 1983.

"I see a lot more of the countryside, which you don't get to see at 35,000 feet," she said. "I can tell you how many corn stalks there are in Iowa -- millions of 'em."

Franklin said she'd like to slow down some next year, maybe go on a cruise and take some classes.

Classes in what?

Ballet, she said, and music -- sight-reading, for one, and classical piano.

"I don't think in terms of the past," she said. "I'm growing, I'm expanding. I'm finding new ways of refining and refashioning myself."

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