Aretha Franklin’s Star-Studded Funeral A Celebration Of Respect For Her

By Jim Schaefer
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Hours before the service, fans began lining up, jostling for position as police shuffled them around the streets surrounding the church. Although it was originally supposed to be a private service it was opened up to approximately 1,000 members of the public.

DETROIT

Starting about 50 minutes later than scheduled after a cavalcade of fans, celebrities, elected officials and religious leaders filed inside the sanctuary, the funeral for the legendary Queen of Soul took place Friday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.

The star-studded service, featuring speeches and musical tributes to Aretha Franklin by such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, singers Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and Faith Hill, Motown great Smokey Robinson, former Piston Isiah Thomas and others, follows a weeklong celebration of Franklin’s life and musical career, including three days of public viewings that drew thousands.

Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer.

Greater Grace Pastor Charles Ellis, at the beginning of the service, addressed the late start and asked speakers and performers to do their best to stick to the schedule.

“It is our task to move this service along and honor the wishes of the family,” he said. “It took a little time to get in here, but I believe the Queen wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Speakers and performers obliged for the most part, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who announced early during the service that he and City Council plan to rename the riverfront Chene Park concert venue “Aretha Franklin Park.”

“Each time she soared, it felt like the people of Detroit soared with her because she never forgot her connection to the city,” Duggan said. “When Aretha Franklin sang, it felt like the voice of Detroit.”

Among other highlights of the service:

-Former President Bill Clinton, in remarks that stretched about 12 minutes, said the secret to Franklin’s greatness was that she took her talent “and decided to be the composer of her own life‘s song _ and what a song it turned out to be.” He said Franklin “lived with power. Not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses. I just loved her.” Clinton, who described himself and wife, Hillary, as “groupies” of Franklin, ended his remarks by playing a snippet of her hit song “Think” on his cellphone, which he held up to the microphone. “God bless you, Aretha,” Clinton said. “We love you.”

-Pop superstar Ariana Grande took the stage to sing a version of the Franklin hit, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Later, Jennifer Hudson gave a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

-Smokey Robinson told the crowd one of his “longest friends has gone home,” before breaking into an a capella version of “Really Gonna Miss You.” He sang, “… for the rest of my life, gonna be thinking about you. I’ll miss you my buddy. I’ll miss you my friend. I know that my love for you will never end. Will never end.”

-The Rev. Al Sharpton, in response to President Donald Trump’s comments that Franklin worked for him, said: “She performed for you. She worked for us.” He asked the crowd to help him teach Trump the meaning of respect.

-The Rev. Jesse Jackson told the crowd he was also in town for the funeral for Rosa Parks and watched as long lines of people formed to pay tribute to her, as they did this week for Franklin. Long lines, he said, for “the death of the icons and short lines for voting. Something is missing.” He said if people leave today and don’t register to vote, it would dishonor Franklin.

-Record executive Clive Davis told the crowd that Franklin loved Detroit. “She loved her life in Detroit, she loved her family and, Detroit, you led the world in loving Aretha,” said Davis, who signed Franklin to Arista Records.

Hours before the service, fans began lining up, jostling for position as police shuffled them around the streets surrounding the church. About 1,000 members of the public were expected to be admitted for what had been billed as a private service.

Major networks set up outside to cover the event, sending live shots through the morning and carrying a live-stream feed from inside the sanctuary. Earlier Friday, Franklin was honored during the changing of the guard at England’s Buckingham Palace, featuring a rendition of her iconic song “Respect.”

Shepherded in through a long line of pink Cadillacs parked along the road near the church, Franklin’s body arrived about 7:30 a.m. in a white 1940 LaSalle hearse.

The vintage vehicle, made by Cadillac, once carried the bodies of Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, in 1984; civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005, and singer David Ruffin of the Temptations in 1991.

Franklin’s body underwent several clothing changes during her public viewing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History and at her father’s church, New Bethel Baptist. For the funeral the body was dressed in a sparkling gold dress, full-length, with sequined heels.

Her casket is a 24-karat gold-plated Promethean made of solid bronze. Inside, there’s champagne velvet lining.

“Aretha Franklin” and “Queen of Soul” are embroidered in gold metallic thread.

Bishop David Ellis III and Franklin’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Smith Jr., led a solemn procession of the casket inside the church.
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(Staff writers Brian McCollum, Cassandra Spratling, Rochelle Riley, Julie Hinds, Gina Kaufman, Nicole Avery, JC Reindl, Aleanna Siacon and Omar Abdel-Baqui contributed to this report.)

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