*“Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin’s homegoing service can best be described as a combination of a revival, political rally, motivational talk, musical tribute, roast and of course worship service. Presenters from the world of entertainment, sports, politics, business, and Franklin’s closest friends came together on one stage to celebrate not only the Queen’s musical talents but her activism and the many lives she touched.
Franklin died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.
The service, held at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, was presided over by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who is also a long-time family friend. Lining the street to the church on Seven Mile Road was a sea of over 100 Pink Cadillacs, an idea thought up by Ellis and his wife Crisette. The cars arrived post arrival of Franklin, but as the funeral procession left for the cemetery, they were lined up four deep. Crisette is a national sales for Mary Kay Cosmetics. So she didn’t have to go far to find owners of pink Cadillacs. The company uses pink Cadillacs as sales incentives for reaching what it calls “Grand Achiever” status un sales.
Bringing your car meant you would get entrance into the funeral. So, their owners came from across the nation, suited in their signature Mary Kay outfits. They even had a special section in the church. Some vintage Cadillacs were also on display.
The day kicked-off with the fourth and final viewing of the week, which included two days of public viewing at The Charles H. Wright Museum on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by another public viewing on Thursday at New Bethel Church. The Queen had a clothing change for each of these viewing. For this final viewing she wore a gold lame dress and her gold Christian Louboutin shoes – the red soles. Ever a signature of a Diva.
Everything — from the arrangement of the flowers that surrounded the 24-karat gold-plated casket, which was similar to the one of Michael Jackson and James Brown, to the arrangements of the pastel-colored roses that surrounded the casket — was flawless.
In the foyer of the church, attendees had the chance to see floral arrangements sent by stars from around the world. The arrangements by The Miracles, The Whispers and The Four Tops was very dramatic, Mariah Cary’s white roses formed into a cross was much photographed. Rod Stewart, Elton John, Barbara Streisand, and Jimmy Fallon were just a few of the major stars from around the world who sent flowers. Dance Theater of Harlem, Essence and Ebony Magazine showed their love through flower for the Queen. Oddly enough, the arrangement sent on behalf of Diana Ross was more suitable as a tabletop.
The program was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but the family procession didn’t get going until 11:30 a.m. I clocked out the recessional at 7:15 p.m. The expression “time flies when you are having fun” or in this case, inspired, uplifted and entertained.
The family and friends procession officially kicked off the service. As they filed past the casket the Aretha Franklin Celebration Choir performed “You Are The Source of My Strength.” Also leading the processional was funeral directors from around the country. This was a special touch organized by the Swanson Funeral Home. The program organized by the Franklin Family will be remember as historic and talked about as the standard for a celebrity funeral. Gwendolyn Quinn, spokeswoman for the Franklin Family who coordinated the media knew how to draw press from around the globe.
Bishop T.D. Jakes, Potter’s House was one of several pastors from across the country who knew Aretha Franklin or her Father C.L. Franklin. He read passages from the Bible. Jakes was one of the few members of the clergy that stuck to his allotted time. His eloquent reading from the Old Testament set the tone for what was ahead. He said ” She was classy enough to sing on the most prominent stages in the world, but she was home girl enough to make potato salad and fry some chicken. In a class, all by herself.”
Faith Hill, whose rendition of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus ” was panned by some. But one singer who also performed said the sound system may have been off.
Local, state and national Michigan politicians told stories of how Franklin, a Detroit native, was a national treasure. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said that he will send a bill to city council to rename Chene Park, which he said was one of her favorite places in the world, to be renamed Aretha Franklin Park. It seems Council President Brenda Jones also had the same idea and was introducing a resolution also changing the name permanently. She also announced that a portion of a city street is going to be renamed Aretha Franklin Way. Governor Rick Snyder (R-Mich) also talked about Franklin’s contribution to the state of Michigan.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) talked about how she received a surprise phone call from Franklin after becoming mayor of Southfield, Mich. This was Franklin’s style. Franklin wanted Lawrence to attend an upcoming event, so she picked up the phone and called her. Lawrence was in shock and responded, “No, excuse me, ma’am, you mean Aretha Franklin, like the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin?” She said Franklin was very supportive of women politicians.
Lawrence is part of a group of national lawmakers, including Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who introduced legislation to award Franklin posthumously with a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
Also attending the event was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Maxine Waters (D-California) who drew heavy applause.
The cast of Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and The Have Nots” got a standing ovation just for walking into the sanctuary. Perry said the show was Franklin’s favorite. The cast attended “The People’s Tribute to the Queen” the previous night and had fans going selfie crazy. They had front row seats at the funeral. Perry was also one of the speakers.
Ariana Grande had the Twittersphere working overtimes because of her attire – a Black mini dress and steep, stiletto heels. But one woman said, “she was dressed like most young women of her generation.” She had her fiancé Pete Davidson in tow. It was reported that her old flame Big Sean was also in the house. Grande performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” After her musical tribute, Bishop Ellis embraced her and remarked that he thought a “Ariana Grande” was a new item on the Taco Bell menu. Her fans didn’t see the joke. He also had to issue an apology for this and in an interview with The Associated Press at the cemetery where Franklin was interred late Friday about touching her.
“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast. … I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her,” Ellis said. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”
He said he hugged all the performers during Friday’s eight-hour service.
“I hug all the female artists and the male artists,” Ellis said. “Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love.”
This is true. There was a lot of hugging and embracing after each performance by ALL on the stage.
The Clark Sisters from Detroit brought the program back to its gospel roots. Their rich harmonies on the song “Is My Living In Vain?” had the church on its feet.
The Williams Brothers and Vanessa Bell Armstrong gave the audience old-school gospel.
Aretha Franklin’s grandchildren and niece, Vaughn, Victorie, Jordan and Cristal Franklin was a reminder to all that she was not just an entertainer, but a mother, sister, grandmother and aunt. While she had a very public musical life, her personal life was off limits and opened only at her request. The next generation of the Franklins talked about what it meant to have Franklin as a grandmother and aunt. In the words of Victorie, “She was just my Grandma.”
Former President George W. Bush who honored Aretha Franklin with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 sent a letter on behalf of himself and his wife that was read during the acknowledgments and condolences portion of the service.
Going off the printed program schedule, Smokey Robinson looked GQ handsome and 30 years young. He didn’t perform, but crooned a few bars from a song he wrote for another production. Robinson said in one of her last conversations with him, Franklin told him about the movie that was in development about her life and asked who he thought should play him. Robinson said, “I know you’re up there and you’re celebrating with your family, and all our neighborhood friends who have gone, and you’re going to be one of the featured voices in the choir of angels, because you’d have to be.”
An operatic presentation by Alice Mcallister Tillman singing “Ave Maria” was a reminder that the Queen of Soul could sing any kind of music. Over and over throughout the program, speakers mentioned her versatility and the fact that she was in a league of her own.
Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, talked about how he first met Aretha – like many – she just called him on the phone. This was her style, to call public figures to compliment them on their accomplishment. Many became lifelong friends. To cap his presentation, he choose Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back To Me (That What I’m Gonna Do).”
Franklin’s son Edward Franklin who sometime performed with her was another family member who made a presentation. His vocal choice was Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me. ”
Pastor Shirley Caesar in a silver lame evening gown dazzled the audience and had them dancing on the stage, in the pews and aisle. It was old-school revival. She performed with Tasha Cobbs-Leonard . She even had Minister Louis Farrakhan, who was seated on the podium, swaying to praises. He stayed for the entire program on stage but did not make presentation.
Celebrity Judge – who is a real retired Judge – Greg Mathis told the audience of how his relationship with the Queen of Soul started with his political activism working with Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Reverend Al Sharpton read a letter on behalf of the former President Barrack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. He also talked about Franklin’s generosity to his organization, He said she once sent him a check to help his organization. He called to thank her and told Franklin that he had framed the check. Franklin replied” don’t you have a photo copy machine because you need to cash that check.” Sharpton mentioned how he misspelled “respect” while discussing Franklin on his television show. Fans called him out about this error. He said that he needed to “correct President Trump and teach him what it means.”“Trump said, ‘She used to work for me,’” Sharpton explained. “No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us.”
Chaka Khan who flew in Oprah Winfrey’s former makeup artist Reggie Wells brought the house down with the gospel song “How I Got over. ” In a slinky black sheath with a large taffeta duster she looked stunning with a fan for special effects. The fan also was a great prop to hide the words of the song. She gave the audience all the drama of a seasoned diva. Chaka came back for an encore — the only performer on the program to do so.
Ron Isley remarked he should have brought his brothers and the band. His musical tribute was “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” He grew up with Franklin and you could hear the sorrow in his voice.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder/president of Rainbow Push Coalition, was one of many from the clergy who used their tribute as a call to action to get people to vote. He said that we stand in line for a viewing but can’t stand in line to vote.
Former President Bill Clinton, accompanied by his wife and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, had the audience in stitches with his remembrance of the Queen of Soul. “I was so happy when I got here and the casket was still open, I got to think: ‘I wonder what my friend has on today’,”
He added “You could say that Hillary and I went to college and law school with Aretha,” Clinton said at the time, “because there was scarcely a day when we didn’t listen to one of her songs.”
Clinton ended his remarks by holding his cell phone, playing Franklin’s “Think,” up to the microphone.
The two American Idol alumni’s both looking slim and trim held their own in the musical tributes. Fantasia Barrino-Taylor looked stunning in a Black Sheath with a cape Jacket topped off with a pill-box hat. She sang “You’ve Got A Friend.” Jennifer Hudson also looking slim wore a two piece peplum jacket over a pencil slim skirt. She also sported a pill-box hat. Her musical tribute was” Amazing Grace.” Both performed in the latter part of the day but brought it on strong.
Cicely Tyson’s hat was a speech in itself. The 91-year-old actress read a version of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “When Malindy Sings,” subbing Aretha for Malindy. She still got it.
Clive Davis, Chief Creative Officer, Sony Music talked about his 30-year musical relationship with Franklin. He also shined a light on her activism quoting her as saying, “I have the money. I get it from black people and I want to use it in ways that will always help our people.” He is planning a tribute this fall to Franklin.
Bishop Paul Morton and Yolanda Adams took the tradition spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep” and had the stage stumping like a drill team in high gear. Adams says she is working on a new album.
Businessman and former NBA player (Detroit Pistons) Isaiah Thomas says he became friends with Franklin when he played in Detroit. He also reflected on how he was introduced to Franklin’s music by his mother. He said the song his mother was playing told him what was going on with his mother’s and father’s relationship. Tyler Perry shared the same scenario about how Franklin’s music was the music of his youth.
Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology, Georgetown University, came to the podium fired up and said The Queen Of Soul is the Queen of Our Soul. He summed up the event as the most spiritual expression of Blackness.
Gladys Knight, another singer who has slimmed down, sung “You’ll never Walk Alone.” She was one of the few who didn’t use the Aretha Franklin Choir or Orchestra to back-up her singing. She also wasn’t on the official program.
The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., a pastor from Atlanta’s Salem Baptist Church, delivered the eulogy and talked about Aretha Franklin’s activism being an issue with her father. Franklin paid to get Angela Davis out of Jail. He said Franklin told her father that Davis was a woman and didn’t need to be in jail.
But Williams who is known as a pastor’s pastor devoted a lot of time talking about black parenting and “black on black” crime. Granted Dyson was a hard act to follow. But The general consensus was he over stepped his boundaries.
Stevie Wonder stood playing a harmonica solo. While his address was about praising how Franklin’s music uplifting people, he also commented on Williams’s statement regarding Black Lives Matter. He said that Black Lives Do Matter and he is committed to making this world a better place.
“We can talk about all the things that are wrong, and there are many,” Wonder said. “But the only thing that can deliver us is love.”
His musical tribute was “As,” from his 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life”. This tune may not have been gospel music but the church rocked. His back up was Jenifer Lewis, Dottie Peoples Shirley Murdoch and Angie Stone who learned that afternoon they would accompany Stevie.
Jennifer Holliday, in a bright purple suit, with rhinestones, with the Aretha Franklin Celebration Choir closed out the ceremony with a performance of “Climbing Higher Mountains.”
Some of the celebrities attending included Freda Payne, Boxer Tommy Hearns, Duke Fakir of Four Tops fame, Johnny Gill, Whoopi Goldberg, Omarosa Manigault Newman, former US Congressman John Conyers, Freda Payne, Dee Dee Bridgewaters and Martha Reeves.
This service for years to come will be talked about as one of the events of the century.