With her fervent R&B/gospel style, Aretha Franklin was a dominant force in the 1960s. In the varying musical climates since then, she hasn't been a major hit-maker but has influenced a generation of artists.
You get a feeling for her talent and the scope of her musical influence on the generally excellent "Aretha Franklin: Duets" (at 10 p.m. Sunday on Fox, Channels 11 and 6). She sings some of her oldies--though oddly omitting her most famous song, "Respect"--with an assortment of pop and rock stars, including Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Gloria Estefan and Smokey Robinson.
On these duets, Franklin, whose voice has grown deeper over the years with no loss of range, effortlessly blows away the competition. The best tunes are her oldies, like "Chain of Fools" (with John, Stewart and Robinson), "A Natural Woman" (with Estefan and Raitt), "This Old Heart of Mine" (with Stewart) and "Since You've Been Gone" (with Raitt).
Franklin is on cruise-control on duets on other artists' hits--with Robinson on his "Just to See Her" and with Estefan on "Coming Out of the Dark." She is clearly holding back on the duet with frail-voiced Estefan.
Like no other artist except Ray Charles, Franklin brings to pop a volcanic style that fuses gospel, jazz and blues elements. Other singers have always revered her style, and that comes across loud and clear with all the gushing by her duet partners.