Majestic funeral fit for 'Queen of Soul'

Above: Singer Stevie Wonder performing at Aretha Franklin's funeral at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit last Friday. Left: More than 100 pink Cadillacs parked outside the church after having served as part of the early morning funeral procession.
Singer Stevie Wonder performing at Aretha Franklin's funeral at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit last Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Above: Singer Stevie Wonder performing at Aretha Franklin's funeral at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit last Friday. Left: More than 100 pink Cadillacs parked outside the church after having served as part of the early morning funeral procession.
More than 100 pink Cadillacs parked outside the church after having served as part of the early morning funeral procession.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

Dignitaries, stars pay tribute to Aretha Franklin as powerful force for musical, political change

DETROIT • Praised by presidents and pop stars, eulogised by preachers and feted with a fleet of pink Cadillacs, Aretha Franklin was celebrated as a musical titan, an empowering feminist and an American icon during a marathon goodbye that showcased a generation of talent that drew inspiration from her.

Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer two weeks ago at the age of 76, was known as the "Queen of Soul" and one of the unimpeachable stars of American music.

Her funeral, at a megachurch on the outskirts of Detroit last Friday, was suitably regal, with tributes that stretched on for eight hours by former US president Bill Clinton, singer Stevie Wonder, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, basketball star Isiah Thomas and others.

But the ceremony, a traditional "home-going" event in front of thousands, also underscored Franklin's roots in the Baptist church and in black culture. The church, Greater Grace Temple, with room for 4,000 people, had been the site of well-known black activist Rosa Parks' funeral in 2005 - where Franklin was a featured performer.

"Thank you, Lord, for Aretha," local pastor E.L. Branch said in prayer. "She was first Detroit's, then America's, then the world's."

In speech after speech, Franklin in death became a rallying point for speakers, who used her example to address political and social frustrations, and to vow to persevere. Mr Jackson noted that there were long lines for her viewings but short lines at voting booths.

Inside the church, an entire wall was filled with floral displays from many people, including celebrities Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Tony Bennett, Don King, Diana Ross and the family of James Brown.

Outside, more than 100 pink Cadillacs lined up, four abreast, after having served as part of the early morning funeral procession.

"Her song, the pink Cadillac song, meant so much to us. We use it at every event," said Ms Joy Bailey Greff, a Mary Kay cosmetics salesman who drove her pink Cadillac for 14 hours from Alabama to be part of the procession. "She's just an icon, a legend, and it's an honour to just be part of something like this and to be able to give back after she's given so much to people," she said.

The tributes encompassed Franklin's outsize role as a sainted gospel singer, fur-tossing pop diva, symbol of women's liberation and the civil rights movement, and hometown hero in Detroit, where many of the hotels flew their flags at half-staff.

Franklin was scheduled to be entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, along with her father and other family members.

In his speech, singer Smokey Robinson addressed Franklin directly, saying: "The world is celebrating you. The world is mourning you. The world is going to miss you."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 02, 2018, with the headline 'Majestic funeral fit for 'Queen of Soul''. Print Edition | Subscribe