Political dignitaries and music royalty led the tributes to Aretha Franklin at her star-studded funeral on Friday, joining her family and members of the public in bidding goodbye to America’s “Queen of Soul.”
The service, a celebration of the life and legacy of the music icon, was full of song, uplifting eulogies and humorous anecdotes at the Greater Grace Temple in her hometown Detroit.
The 76-year-old singer, beloved by millions around the world, died of cancer on August 16, closing the curtain on a glittering six-decade career that spanned Gospel, R&B, Jazz, Blues and even classical music.
Former US president Bill Clinton was among the guests, while letters were read out from his successors George W. Bush and Barack Obama extolling her contribution to America and her cultural importance.
Franklin’s golden casket was flanked by enormous blooms of lavender, cream and pink roses, while the church packed with smartly dressed mourners.
It was an upbeat and jubilant service celebrating Franklin, uplifting her family in their time of grief and celebrating her gospel legacy. Worshippers were even urged to get to their feet and dance at one point.
Smokey Robinson spoke movingly of the childhood friend he would miss for the rest of his life and broke briefly into acappella song.
“I miss you my buddy, I miss you my friend, I know that my love for you will never end, will never end,” he sang. “I’m going to love you forever,” he finished, blowing a kiss toward her coffin.
Long live the Queen
Arana Grande powered through Franklin’s 1968 hit “Natural Woman” supported by gospel backing singers with further tributes expected from Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Hudson.
“I’m so proud of you, I know you’ll be watching me from the windows of heaven and I promise to carry our family legacy with pride,” said Franklin’s very emotional grandson Jordan, tearing up. “Long live the Queen.”
While television stars and politicians mingled inside, fans queued overnight in their funeral finery or Aretha T-shirts, desperate to be among the 1,000 members of the public allowed into the service.
“Aretha is my icon. She’s everything to me, like my mother,” said Ugochi Queen, a 46-year-old Franklin tribute artist dressed in black ruffles from Gary, Indiana, who got in line at 4:00 am.
“I need closure and that’s why I’m here.”
Dozens of people crowded around a large screen broadcasting the funeral at a nearby gas station, camping out in beach chairs or standing in the shade, cheering at the sight of the rich and famous inside.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city would rename Chene Park — the riverside amphitheatre that hosted a tribute concert for her on Thursday — in Franklin’s honor. The announcement was met with a standing ovation.
Franklin influenced generations of singers from the late Whitney Houston to Beyonce, with unforgettable hits including “Respect” (1967) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968).
She won 18 Grammy awards and was feted for her civil rights work, raising money for the cause and inspiring activists with her anthems.
Franklin was voted the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and for African American women in particular was a role model and a benchmark for success, feminism and empowerment.
Detroit considers Franklin royalty. For three days she lay resplendent in a different outfit each day, and visited by thousands. On Friday, she wore a golden sparkling dress for her funeral.
Thousands upon thousands of people lined up in the past days to see the late singer one last time — first at the Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History, then at her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church.
Pink Cadillacs — some having been driven across the country — parked en masse outside the church, expected to follow her cortege to the cemetery where she is to be buried alongside her father and siblings.
They are a nod to her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love,” an anthem to her Motor City hometown, in which Franklin sang about a pink Cadillac, the car company that was founded in Detroit in 1902.
Franklin is expected to make her final journey in the same ivory 1940 Cadillac LaSalle used at the funerals of her father and of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The daughter of a prominent Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, Franklin sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the inaugurations of presidents Clinton and Obama.
She was awarded America’s highest civilian honor by president Bush in 2005.