President Bill Clinton paid tribute to the “Queen of Soul” Friday, remembering singer Aretha Franklin as a woman with courage, faith and a “breathtaking talent.”
“She lived with courage, not without fear. But overcoming her fears. She lived with faith, not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power, not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses,” Clinton said in his speech during Franklin’s funeral Friday in Detroit. “I just loved her.”
Clinton said he and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered themselves “Aretha groupies.”
The former President spoke about his “most enduring memory” of Franklin: meeting her backstage last November at an Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York – which would be her final public performance.
Clinton said Franklin looked “obviously, desperately ill” and “gaunt,” but she “stood right up and said, ‘How you doing, baby?’ “
Clinton recalled that Franklin sang for 45 minutes during the gala, leaving those in the room awestruck.
“She wanted them to sit back, relax, feel good and listen to her sing, and not worry about how long she was going to live,” Clinton said. “She cared about broken people. She cared about people who were disappointed. She cared about people who didn’t succeed as much as she did.”
He asked Friday’s attendees to forgive him because he hoped to see what Franklin was wearing.
“I was so glad when I got here – and I hope you will forgive me – when the casket was still open because I said, ‘I wonder what my friend’s got on today,’ ” he said to laughter from the crowd. “I want to see what the girl is carrying out.”
Franklin was dressed in a long, sequined gold gown and gold high heels to match her golden casket.
Wrapping up his speech, Clinton broke out his iPhone and began playing Franklin’s 1968 hit song “Think.” Holding up his phone, he said, “that’s the best I can do.”
He said of the song, “It’s the key to freedom,” before returning to his seat.
Clinton was the only former president to attend Franklin’s funeral, but letters written by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were read during the service. Franklin had performed at Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993.
Franklin died earlier this month at age 76 from advanced pancreatic cancer.
CNN’s Lisa Respers France contributed to this report.