They laid Aretha Franklin to rest with a funeral fit for a Queen.
A week of tributes and public mourning — which included a massive concert, tributes from some of the nation’s most prominent public figures and four final, glorious outfit changes — ended with a day-long funeral Friday in Detroit, the vibrantly musical city that launched her career and remained her home for much of her life.
“The secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and this perfect culture that raised her, and she decided to be the composer of her own life’s song,” former president Bill Clinton said. “And what a song it turned out to be.”
Franklin, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at 76, inspired an eight-hour send-off that reflected the impact of her career.
“It took a little time to get in here, but I believe the Queen wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said Bishop Charles H. Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple, in his welcome to mourners about an hour after the expected 10 a.m. start time.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called Franklin a “civil rights activist and freedom fighter.” Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. said her “status as a queen, unlike others who inherit a title . . . was earned.”
“She was classy enough to sing on the most prominent stages in the world,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes, “but she was homegirl enough to make potato salad and fry some chicken. In a class all by herself.”
Two other former presidents — Barack Obama and George W. Bush — sent remarks that were read. The mayor of Detroit announced that “one of her favorite places in the world,” Chene Park, would be renamed after Franklin.
The funeral for such a singular figure in American popular culture — who got standing ovations from world leaders, pinch-hit for renowned opera singers and gave activists demanding equal rights an anthem — could have easily turned into a massive show-business production.
And while celebrities filled the pews and provided electrifying performances, the homegoing for Franklin was mostly a joyful church service, with gospel tributes, preaching and many opportunities to catch the Holy Spirit.
“If Ms. Franklin can dance on the stage, somebody ought to be able to dance in the church,” said Ellis. “We’re here to lift up this family. Put a smile on their face.”
Or, as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson remarked, “this is a celebration, but not a party.”
The service ran several hours over schedule. All the while, Franklin laid in a casket made of solid bronze and embroidered with her name and “Queen of Soul” title, according to the Detroit Free Press. The very same 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse that carried her father and Rosa Parks at their funerals transported Franklin to the Greater Grace Temple.
She was wearing a full-length gold dress, the final of four outfits she was changed into throughout the week’s public viewings.
Much of the music at the service reflected her church roots and the impact she had on fellow musicians, with songs performed by Chaka Khan, Faith Hill, Ron Isley, Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande and Fantasia, who dramatically slipped off her high heels before singing “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”
Franklin grew up surrounded by civil rights activists and world-class musicians, including her father, famed pastor C.L. Franklin. So some of the nation’s most well-known ministers flocked to Detroit, to pray for her family and read from Scripture.
Shirley Caesar and rising gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard sang “How I Got Over,” and later, Bishop Paul Morton and Yolanda Adams sang “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” two songs Franklin famously sang on her 1972 “Amazing Grace” album, the best-selling live gospel album ever.
The service shifted smoothly from spiritual themes to more-earthly concerns, including the social and political causes that Franklin championed.
Jackson used his remembrances to urge voter participation. Greg Mathis, the retired judge of courtroom-reality-TV fame, recalled how he and Franklin spoke of the Flint, Mich., water crisis during their last conversation. The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. used his eulogy to hold forth on African American parenting and “black-on-black crime.” Many preached about how Franklin advocated for the poor and downtrodden.
Several speakers also rebuked President Trump, who in paying tribute to Franklin, said that she “worked for me,” apparently an oblique reference to the time she performed at one of his casinos.
“She ain’t work for you,” said scholar Michael Eric Dyson. “She worked above you. She worked beyond you. Get your preposition right. Don’t sully the memory of our great queen.”
But again and again, the luminaries who took the stage returned to the potent effect of Franklin’s music on their lives. By the time Bill Clinton graduated from college in 1968, Franklin had crossed over from gospel to soul — turning Otis Redding’s “Respect” into an anthem of her own and a rallying cry for African Americans and women across the country — and the future president was already an “Aretha groupie,” he said.
Decades later, he recalled, he asked the woman behind hits such as “Chain of Fools” to sing for his 1993 inauguration and later for the emperor and empress of Japan. “I thought it might loosen them up a little,” he joked.
For all her world travels, Detroit — where she came of age in the creative hotbed of an R&B scene that would also launch Motown Records — remained a touchstone. Smokey Robinson wasn’t just a showbiz colleague, he was a childhood friend from back in the neighborhood, and so he remained.
“I didn’t know, especially this soon, that I would have to be say goodbye to you,” he 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.”
During her life, Franklin developed an intense fear of flying and was also fiercely private, particularly about her failing health. But as several friends and family members spoke at her funeral, they also shared intimate details about her final days.
Vaughn Franklin said that during a July visit with his aunt, she asked him, “What do you think?”
“I knew what she was talking about, but how do you find the words to tell someone that you love so much that you can see her health and physical stature declining each time you saw her,” he said. “At that moment, I knew and understood that she was aware that her final days were near.”
And Victorie Franklin said that “the best feeling in the world” was hearing her grandmother sing.
“Her voice made you feel something, you felt every word, every note, every emotion in the songs she sang. Her voice brought peace,” Franklin said. “And watching her on stage from a young age to the last performance I saw her at, I knew that performing was something I was born to do.”
Bethonie Butler and Sonia Rao contributed to this report.