On Friday, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was laid to rest in her city of Detroit, but not before an elaborate send-off befitting of one of the greatest divas and cultural icons in American history. A livestreamed funeral service for Franklin was held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, attended by politicians, civil-rights leaders, her family members, and celebrities alike. Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Reverend William Barber, and more sat center stage. In the crowd, Hillary Clinton mingled with Ariana Grande (who performed a tribute) and her fiancé Pete Davidson, who were seated among other performers, speakers, and guests including Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, Eric Holder, Smokey Robinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cicely Tyson, Shirley Caesar, Tyler Perry, Maxine Waters, Gladys Knight, and more. Outside the temple, a motorcade of 130 pink Cadillacs escorted Franklin’s body to the service, in a nod to her song “Freeway of Love.” For her fourth wardrobe change in as many days, Franklin was dressed in all-white and surrounded by bouquets of purple roses.
The memorial opened with several gospel selections sung by the Aretha Franklin Celebration Choir, backed by her orchestra, including “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Pastor E.L. Branch delivered a prayer of comfort, followed by scriptures of comfort from Bishop T.D. Jakes, Pastor Solomon Kinloch, and Bishop P.A. Brooks. Eric Holder, Jesse Jackson, Senator Gary Owens, Bill Clinton, Michigan governor Rick Snyder, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, Tyler Perry, Clive Davis, Isiah Thomas, Cicely Tyson, and more gave speeches. In his remarks, Duggan announced plans to propose that the city’s historic Chene Park be renamed Aretha Franklin Park, which will be passed and go into effect on Tuesday, the city council’s president declared. JoAnn Watson, city council member, suggested that the federal government make a postage stamp in Franklin’s honor. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow announced in her speech that Aretha Franklin will be posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Sharpton read a statement from Barack Obama – and took a jab at Donald Trump in his own speech – while Franklin’s friend, Barbara Simpson, read a statement from George W. Bush. Franklin’s grandchildren and nephew read emotional speeches, while her niece (and possible estate executor) Sabrina Owens read Aretha’s obituary. Clinton, in his speech, spoke of being an Aretha Franklin “groupie” all his life: “I think the secret of her greatness is that she took this massive talent, and this perfect culture that raised her, and decided to be the composer of her own life’s song. And what a song it was.”
Franklin’s homegoing would, of course, not be complete without musical tributes. Faith Hill began by singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”; Ariana Grande, who was a last-minute addition after Franklin’s family were impressed with her rendition of “Natural Woman” on Fallon, performed Aretha’s hit once again; other performances included Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Ron Isley, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Holliday, the Clark Sisters (with the vocal run battle of the century), Yolanda Adams, the Williams Brothers & Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Edward Franklin (Aretha’s son, who sang “Mercy Mercy Me”), Pastor Shirley Caesar, Tasha Cobbs, and more.
This post has been updated throughout.