Aretha Franklin: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members say final farewell to Queen of Soul
The crimson dress and matching high heels worn by Aretha Franklin for Tuesday's public visitation at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History spoke to more than her splendid fashion sense.
The vibrant red also was a sign of the Queen of Soul's distinguished status as an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
On Tuesday night, after the long line of fans had finished paying their respects, the well-known public service sorority bade a moving farewell to Franklin with an Omega Omega ceremony — a final rite given to deceased members.
About one thousand women from across the country were there, wearing black dresses or suits, many with pearls. They stood together in the museum's soaring rotunda, forming a semi-circle around a small seated group of 30 or so of Franklin's family and friends.
The symbolic embrace of the Delta Sigma Theta members was almost palpable as sorority leaders slowly made their entrance, clad in ceremonial robes in red and white.
Standing in front of Franklin's gold-plated casket, they conducted a ceremony described as "a final act of loyal sisterhood." It included readings of poems and Bible verses, a performance by Detroit member Yolanda Day of the song "Don't Cry," and a eulogy by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence that was peppered with fond memories of Franklin's love for cooking and talking politics.
Leaving about an hour later as solemnly and gracefully as they had arrived, the members concluded a rite of passage that's long been a tradition for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., which was founded in 1913 by 22 women at Howard University.
"It's important to us to say farewell," said the group's national president, Beverly Smith, after the ceremony.
A private, not-for-profit organization committed to public service, Delta Sigma Theta has more than 100,000 members and more than 1,000 chapters internationally.
Like the other historically black Greek letter organizations, Delta Sigma Theta has a legacy of social activism and civic involvement that carries on to this day. Its members include prominent African-American women in politics, medicine, law, the arts, literature, the military and more.
Its past national presidents include the late Dorothy Height, known as the godmother of the civil rights movement.
in 1992, Franklin was inducted as an honorary member by the Grand Chapter, the group's national arm, joining the legendary ranks of actress Ruby Dee, singer Lena Horne, poet Nikki Giovanni and dancer/choreographer Judith Jamison.
Honorary membership is a distinction reserved for those who've essentially made the world a better place through their own lives.
Funeral and tribute:Key details, locations and more
"It really has to be someone who's made a strong contribution to society," said Smith.
Franklin was important to the world and to Delta Sigma Theta for many reasons, according to Smith, who cited both her social activism and her musical artistry.
In a statement given before the ceremony, Smith said, "Franklin was an exceptional vocalist and musician, who touched people with the delivery and message of her songs."
And as Lawrence noted during the ceremony, she was a national treasure known for "never being shy about calling this place" — her beloved Detroit — "home."
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds: 313-222-6427 or email@example.com.