Detroit hosts star-studded funeral for Aretha Franklin

  • 31 Aug 2018

Former presidents, stars and musical royalty paid joyous tribute to Aretha Franklin at her funeral, leading her family and members of the public in bidding goodbye to America's "Queen of Soul."

A worker adjusts a balloon sign in tribute to the late singer Aretha Franklin at the New Bethel Baptist Church during a public viewing in Detroit, Michigan, US. August 30, 2018. ( Reuters )

Former presidents and preachers joined a parade of singers Friday in a hip-swaying, piano-pounding farewell to Aretha Franklin, remembering the Queen of Soul as a powerful force for musical and political change and a steadfast friend and family member.

"Aretha's singing challenged the dangling discords of hate and lies and racism and injustice," the pastor William J. Barber II said. "Her singing was revelation and was revolution."

In a send-off both grand and personal, a celebrity lineup of mourners filled the same Detroit church that hosted Rosa Parks' funeral and offered prayers, songs and dozens of tributes. 

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 made her one of America's most celebrated artists.

TRT World's Jon Brain reports. 

Former president Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson were among those due to address her six-hour, invitation-only funeral at the Greater Grace Temple. Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande lead musical tributes.

Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and was feted for her civil rights work, raising money for the cause and uplifting activists with her anthems.

She influenced generations of female singers from the late Whitney Houston to Beyonce, with unforgettable hits including "Respect" (1967), "Natural Woman" (1968) and "I Say a Little Prayer" (1968).

People wait in line outside the New Bethel Baptist Church during a public viewing of the late singer Aretha Franklin in Detroit, Michigan, US. August 30, 2018.(Reuters)

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 Barack Obama.

She was awarded America's highest civilian honour by George W Bush in 2005. Letters from Bush and Obama are expected to be read at the funeral.

After the service, she will make her final journey in the same ivory 1940 Cadillac LaSalle that transported the body of her father in 1984, and that of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005.

An attendee listens to live music during a free tribute concert to the late Aretha Franklin at Chene Park in Detroit, Michigan, US. August 30, 2018.(Reuters)

Spirit of God

More than 100 pink Cadillacs, a nod to her 1985 hit "Freeway of Love", will reportedly line up outside the church. She will be buried in Woodland Cemetery alongside her father and siblings.

The funeral comes the morning after more than 40 artists performed at a free concert, billed "A People's Tribute to the Queen," spanning the R&B, Gospel, Jazz and Blues genres in which Franklin excelled.

Thousands of joyful fans packed into a water-front arena in Detroit, listening to guest singers powering through some of her greatest hits, culminating in an all-cast arrangement of "Respect".

Her signature song, a feminist anthem, became a rallying cry as African-Americans rose up nationwide in the 1960s to fight peacefully for racial equality.

Her grandchildren spoke briefly, delivering heartfelt thanks on behalf of their family. "It's truly inspiring to see how many hearts, how many people my grandma has touched," said Victorie Franklin.

Dancing, excitedly taking selfies and filming parts of the concert on their cell phones, the evening was a chance for Detroit to celebrate the life and legacy of a towering figure regarded as local royalty.

"Aretha Franklin is awesome to me. My family have been listening to her for a long time," said Felicia Christian, a 41-year-old teacher who got in despite not having a ticket after arriving hours early.

"I think she's wonderful and I know that the spirit of God that's in her is what brought all of us here."

Filmmaker Tyler Perry talks about his friend Aretha Franklin during a free tribute concert to the late Franklin at Chene Park in Detroit, Michigan, US. August 30, 2018.(Reuters)

Headliners included The Four Tops, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Angie Stone, while a gospel choir took everyone to church, rousing the crowd to their feet with an electric, upbeat performance of classics and a powerful rendition of "Amazing Grace" by Tasha Page-Lockhart.

The concert followed three days of public viewings of her open, golden casket that drew thousands at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church, and the Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History.

On Thursday, she lay resplendent in a rose gold outfit and matching Christian Louboutin stilettos. On Tuesday, she wore a red dress with matching heels and on Wednesday she was in blue.