Aretha Franklin funeral: Speakers, musicians, nation celebrate the Queen of Soul
Scores of friends, family, fans, celebrities and dignitaries paid their final respects today to Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 16.
Franklin's funeral service at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, was filled with fitting musical tributes for the Queen of Soul and complimentary words about her musicianship, her civil-rights influence and her life.
Musical tribute highlights
- Stevie Wonder, one of the final performers of the night, started by playing harmonica. "Were it not for God's goodness, greatness, we would not have known the Queen of Soul," he told the crowd. He described how Franklin sang his own song, "Until You Come Back to Me," saying she sang it better than he ever did. He then sang, "I'll Be Loving You Always." Wonder and Franklin had planned to collaborate on a record that included a duet.
- Jennifer Holliday sang as pallbearers moved Franklin's casket and attendees filed out. Holliday, a singer and actress, played Effie White in the 1981 Broadway production of “Dreamgirls.”
- Gladys Knight, a surprise on-stage guest sang "Walk Alone" by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from the Broadway musical "Carousel."
- There were performances by Ariana Grande, singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" that sparked controversy over her dress choice and Faith Hill singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
- The Clark Sisters, the legendary Detroit-based gospel group performed their song, "Is My Living In Vain?", and Chaka Khan brought the funk and had the crowd moving as she sang "Going up Yonder."
- Iconic gospel singers Paul Morton and Yolanda Adams had a moving rendition of "Mary Don't You Weep."
- Jennifer Hudson sang a moving rendition of "Amazing Grace." Franklin chose the actress and singer to play her in an upcoming biopic about Franklin’s life.
- Bill Clinton offered his remembrance of Franklin. “She lived with courage," he said. "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. I just loved her.”
- The Rev. Jesse Jackson took the pulpit to a standing ovation. Jackson urged the crowd to make their voices heard: "I was here for the Rosa Parks funeral and watched long lines for the museum for Rosa Parks. Long lines for Aretha. Long lines today ... Long lines for the death of the icons and short lines for voting. something is missing." He later said: If you leave here today and don't register to vote, you will be dishonoring Aretha.
- Clive Davis, took the stage, saying "Aretha loved Detroit ... and Detroit led the world in loving Aretha." Davis recruited Franklin to Arista records in 1980. "Every time I was with her, whether professionally or personally, I was conscious that she was and will always be a significant part of history."
- Actor Tyler Perry made the crowd laugh and nod with his recollections of Franklin. "If she is the Queen of Soul, every time, she sang from her soul. ... When Aretha sang gospel, something happened, something would shake the room."
- Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, one of the featured speakers, says: “I cannot ignore the sadness that I feel in saying goodbye to a woman I was privileged to know and who I long admired before I ever had a chance to meet her.” Franklin sang “America” at Holder’s farewell ceremony when he resigned his post as the nation’s top lawyer.
- U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters got a standing ovation and responded with a "Wakanda Forever!" salute from the hit movie "Black Panther."
- Ron Isley offered his memories of Franklin. Isely, lead singer and last surviving member of the Isley Brothers (“Shout!” and “It’s Your Thing”), was a frequent guest at Franklin's concerts. He described Franklin as “my best friend,” during a 2010 interview with Vibe magazine. The soft-spoken Isley then broke in to a sweet and soulful "His Eye is on the Sparrow."
- Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, riled the crowd with comments praising Franklin and tearing down President Donald Trump. "You lugubrious leach. You dopey doppelganger of deceit and deviance ... She ain't work for you. She worked above you. She worked beyond you. Don't you sully the memory of our great queen. Aretha Franklin was an original. Never one like her before never another like her after."
- Smokey Robinson took the stage to address the crowd. "Now one of my longest friends has gone home," he said. The legendary Motown artist was one of Franklin’s childhood friends, and the two remained close throughout their lives. He broke into an a capella version of his song, "Really Gonna Miss You."
- "She represented the best of our community and she fought for our community until the end," said Rev. Al Sharpton. "We don't all agree on everything, but we agree on Aretha. She fought for everybody." Sharpton called her the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.
- Sharpton also read aletter from Barack Obama, who was not in attendance but wrote: "Aretha truly was one of a kind. And as you pay tribute, know we’ll be saying a little prayer for you. And we’ll be thinking of all of Aretha’s loved ones in the days and weeks to come."
- Former President George W. Bush also sent a letter. He wrote: "Aretha was a woman of achievement, with a deep character and a loving heart. She made important and lasting contributions to American music, with her Gospel-inspired style and distinctive voice. Her remarkable talent helped shape our nation’s cultural and artistic heritage."
- Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan proposed renaming Detroit's Chene Park after Franklin.
- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder addressed the crowd, with notable emotion in his voice. “She took the challenge and the tragedies and brought a special humanity to her voice and her music that other musicians can only dream to have,” Snyder said.
Comments and performances by the Queen of Soul's family were touching:
- Her son Edward Franklin performed a musical tribute to his mother, a rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me."
- Niece Cristal Franklin said: "To the world, she was the Queen of Soul. But to me, she was just my aunt." She recalls when Franklin sang at her high-school graduation and took her to see Disney on Ice."After every award ceremony, she was my gossip girl. ... I just want to say to everyone sitting here and everyone watching in the world, thank you."
- Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece, read her aunt's obituary. The Queen of Soul was the first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She won 18 Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- Vaughn, Cristal, Victorie and Jordan Franklin took the stage. Victorie recalls what it was like to be the Queen of Soul's granddaughter "To know that she is a part of who I am, there's nothing like that," she said. "I love you Grandma, and I will make you proud." Franklin's grandson Jordan thanked his grandmother for demonstrating the right way to handle success. "Her imprint on the world can never be removed. ... Long live the Queen."
You can read Franklin's full Detroit Free Press obituary here: Aretha Franklin dies at 76: Detroit star transformed American music.
Business and political leaders, athletes and others from around the country are in attendance to the private funeral. After friends and family filed in, Franklin's casket was closed for the final time.
Funeral details: Key details, what to expect
Aretha's final resting place
Franklin will be buried in 24-karat gold plated Promethean casket made of solid bronze. The interior is finished with champagne velvet. Franklin's title, “Queen of Soul,” and her name “Aretha Franklin” are embroidered in the casket with gold metallic thread.
Franklin’s casket was carried to the church Friday morning in a white 1940 LaSalle hearse that also carried civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005. The private funeral, which is being live-streamed, is expected to last at least six hours and has an epic program.
After the funeral, Franklin will be buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, alongside late family members including her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin.
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