Family, friends and the many admirers of Aretha Franklin packed Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple on Friday to celebrate the life, legacy and music of the “Queen of Soul.”
It was a service fit for the Queen, who died earlier this month at the age of 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
The funeral was full of mourning and laughter, of rousing gospel music and soulful hymns befitting of the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, who won 18 Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, among many other honors.
Singers like Ariana Grande, Faith Hill, the Clark Sisters, Chaka Khan, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder rallied funeralgoers and brought them to their feet to dance and sing with Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “I’m Going Up Yonder,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and “Amazing Grace,” to name a few.
Stevie Wonder gave the last performance before Franklin’s family exited the church. Whipping out his harmonica, Wonder played a musical rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
“Were it not for God’s goodness, God’s greatness, we would’ve never known the queen of soul,” Wonder said after finishing with the harmonica. He ended with his 1976 song “As,” which brought people to their feet.
Spoken tributes and remembrances from religious and political leaders underlined the influence of a woman who stood on the front lines of the civil rights movement, with her music as a frequent anthem.
Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former US Attorney General Eric Holder were among those who came to pay their respects and offer kind words and remembrances.
Former President Bill Clinton fondly recalled the last time he saw Franklin, when she greeted him with, “How you doing, baby?”
It was a star-studded occasion, but it wasn’t about who was or wasn’t famous. Her former neighbor, Ron Moten, told the story of the time his friend Aretha gave a concert at his mother’s assisted living facility on her 90th birthday.
And fans around the world collectively followed the funeral for more than six hours, using the hashtag #ArethaHomegoing.
All those gathered had come to say their last goodbyes to a woman and an artist who profoundly impacted each of them, the city of Detroit and the world. “She gave us pride,” Sharpton said during his remembrance. “And she gave us a regal bar to reach, and that’s why we’re all here.
“We don’t all agree on everything,” he said. “But we agree on Aretha.”
Presidents pay homage to the ‘Queen of Soul’
Sharpton read a letter from former President Barack Obama, who honored Franklin’s legacy and her impact on the country.
“In the example she set both as an artist and a citizen, Aretha embodied those most revered virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation,” Obama wrote.
“While the music she made captured some of our deepest human desires, namely affection and respect, and through her voice, her own voice, Aretha lifted those of millions, empowering and inspiring the vulnerable, the downtrodden, and everyone who may have just needed a little love.”
Clinton brought a smile to attendees’ faces with a touching and humorous tribute, recognizing both Franklin’s grace and strength, and professing his admiration for the singer and her resolve.
“This woman got us all here in these seats today, not because she had this breathtaking talent, which she did … but because she lived with courage, not without fear, but overcoming her fears.
“She lived with faith,” he continued, “not without failure but overcoming her failures. She lived with power, not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses.”
A letter from President George W. Bush was also read, in which he called Franklin a “woman of achievement with a deep character and loving heart.”
A few speakers took jabs at President Donald Trump throughout the day. Sharpton criticized the President for saying after Franklin’s death that she had “worked for me on numerous occasions.”
“No,” Sharpton said, “she used to perform for you. She worked for us.”
And Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown professor who spoke at the funeral, slammed Trump for the same remark.
“She worked above you,” Dyson said. “She worked beyond you. Get your preposition right.”
’It’s just my grandma’
Mourners began filling the church early Friday, while Franklin’s fans and dozens of pink Cadillac owners lined up outside, a tribute to the singer’s 1985 hit “Freeway of Love” in which she sang, “We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac.”
Franklin’s open casket was placed at the front of the church as mourners streamed by in advance of the service. As they passed, they saw the singer’s body dressed all in gold, with a long sequin gown and high heels to match her gleaming gold casket.
Projected on the walls were the words “A Celebration Fit for the Queen.”
The choir greeted attendees who took their seats in the pews as the processional began, and before long many were on their feet, singing and clapping along.
The casket was closed at the end of the lengthy processional after the singer’s family and friends had said goodbye, and as the choir sang, “Jesus, the Light of the World.”
“Walk in the light,” the singers proclaimed as the casket lid was lowered, “the beautiful light. Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.”