Aretha Franklin honored with regal funeral worthy of ‘Queen of Soul’


DETROIT (NBC) — Dozens of pink Cadillacs thronged the street in a procession leading to Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple Church — the first sign that Aretha Franklin’s funeral service would be fit for the “Queen of Soul.”

NOTE: A live feed of Aretha Franklin’s funeral service in Detroit. App/mobile users can tune in here.

Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer, is being honored Friday morning with an invitation-only service for family and friends, capping a weeklong celebration of the late soul singer’s life in her hometown.

Some open seats inside the church were made available to the public shortly before the service started.

Country crooner Faith Hill kicked off the music tributes with a rousing rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” a gospel staple that Franklin covered in 1972, that had the crowd on its feet and singing along. Hill was the opening act for a star-studded list of performances by Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, and Ron Isley.

In his opening prayer, Dr. E. L. Branch, the pastor for the Third New Hope Church, hailed Franklin, “who touched so many from popes and presidents, even to the least and the last.”

Proof of that was on display Friday, as former President Bill Clinton was among the speakers set to deliver remembrances of the musical icon.

Also scheduled to speak were the Rev. Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Tyler Perry, and Motown legend Smokey Robinson. The eulogy will be delivered by the pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.

Franklin may have been internationally renowned, but she was also locally beloved. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan told the crowd that the city would rename Chene Park — site of the amphitheater that hosted a tribute concert the night before — as Aretha Franklin Park. To make it official, the proclamation would be voted on by City Council next Tuesday.

The gold-plated casket carrying Franklin arrived at the church at 7:45 a.m. EST, with the processional beginning three hours later. The service was expected to run at least five hours.

“After all she gave to the world, I felt we needed to give her an appropriate send-off that would match her legacy,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece, told The Associated Press.

Then there are the diva flourishes. Those pink Cadillacs are an homage to the vehicle at the center of the lyrics and video for Franklin’s ’80s hit “Freeway of Love. The procession was organized by Crisette Ellis — the wife of Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, the pastor of the Greater Grace Temple — who told NPR that 130 such Caddies were expected to participate.

Franklin was also feted Thursday with an all-star concert in the amphitheater that would soon be renamed in Franklin’s honor. Her fans got the chance to pay their respect with public viewings on Tuesday and Wednesday at the city’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Greater Grace Temple had a deep connection for Franklin: The “Natural Woman” crooner sang at the 2005 funeral for civil rights icon Rosa Parks. In a nod to that link, Franklin’s casket was ferried to the church in the same hearse that brought Parks there 13 years ago.

After the funeral service ends, Franklin will be buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, where several family members, including her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, are interred.

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