*Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul’s home going service can best be described as a combination of a revival, political rally, motivational talk, musical tributes, roast and of course worship. Presenters from the world of entertainment, sports, politics, business, and just friends came together on one stage to celebrate not only Franklin’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 was presided over by Bishop Charles H. Ellis, 111 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. Ellis and his wife Crisette Ellis thought up the idea. The cars arrived post arrival of Franklin, but as the funeral procession left for the cemetery they were four deep. Cristine Ellis is national sales for Mary Kay Cosmetic. So she didn’t have to go far to find owners of Pink Cadillacs. The company uses pink colored Cadillacs as a sales incentive for reaching what it calls “Grand Achiever” level of sales.
They came from across the nation suited in their signature outfits. They even had a special section in the Church. But there was some vintage Cadillacs on display. Bringing your car meant you would get entrance into the funeral.
The day kicked-off with the fourth and final viewing of the week which was held between 8:30-9:30AM – Two days of public at The Charles H. Wright Museum on Tuesday and Wednesday followed by another public viewing on Thursday at New Bethel Church. The Queen had clothing change for each of these viewing. For this final viewing she wore a gold lame dress and her gold Christian Louboutine Shoes – the red soles. Ever a signature of a Diva. Everything from the arrangement of the flowers that surround 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 surround the casket was flawless.
In the foyer of the church attendees had the chance to see to floral arrangements sent by stars from around the World. The Miracles and The Four Tops arrangement was very dramatic, Mariah Carey’s White Roses formed into a cross was much photographed. Rod Steward, Elton John, Barbara Streisand, and Jimmy Fallon are just a few of the major stars from around the world who sent flowers. Oddly enough the arrangement sent on behalf of Diana Ross was more suitable as a tabletop. Franklin’s casket was surrounded by pastel roses and a Bleeding Heart from her grandchildren.
The program was to scheduled to start at 10AM but the family procession didn’t get going until 11:30AM. I clocked out the recessional at 7:15PM. 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. Also leading the processional were 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 remembered as historic and talked about as the standard for a celebrity funeral. Gwen Quinn was the publicist for the family and knew how to draw media 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 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.
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 lawmakers, including Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who introduced legislation to award Franklin posthumously with a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors.
Also attending the event was Sheila Jackson Lee and Maxine Waters who got numerous 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 twitter world working overtimes because of her attire. 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. She performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” After her musical tribute, Bishop Ellis embraced her and remarked that he thought an Ariana Grande was a new item on the Taco Bell menu. Her fans didn’t see the joke. He also had to issue and 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 hugged 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.”
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 their feet.
Vanessa Bell Armstrong and the Williams Brothers, another Detroit group, gave the audience old school gospel.
Aretha Franklin’s grandchildren and nieces, 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. 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 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.
Going off the printed program schedule, Smokey Robinson looked GQ handsome and 30 years younger. He didn’t perform, but crooned a few bars from a song he wrote for another production. Robinson said in one of their last conversations, Franklin told him about the movie that’s in development about her life and asked who he thought should play him. He didn’t reveakl what he may have told Aretha, however, 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.”
A operatic presentation by Alice Mcallister Tillman singing “Ave Maria” was a reminder that Queen of Soul could sing any kind of music. Over and over through the program speaker mention 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 complement them on their accomplishment. Many becoming 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 TV 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 hair and 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. She gave the audience all the drama of a seasoned Diva. She 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 along with his wife Hillary Clinton had the audience in stitches with his rememberance 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 cellphone, playing Franklin’s “Think” up to the microphone.
The two “American Idol” alumni were both looking slim and trim held their own in the musical tributes. Fantasia Barrino-Taylor looked stunning in a black Sheath with a bolero jacket topped off with a fascinator hat. She sang “You’ve Got A Friend.” Jennifer Hudson also looking slim and wore a peplum jacket over a pencil slim skirt. She also sported a fascinator. 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 traditioaln spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep” to a whole new level for me and had the stage stomping like a drill team in high gear. Adams says she is working on a new album.
Former NBA player and NBA broadcaster Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 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 that depending on what song his mother was playing told him what was going on with his mother and father’s relationship.
Tyler Perry shared the same scenario about how Franklin 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.
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 Aretha 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.
Stevie Wonder stood playing a harmonica solo. While his address was about praising Franklin’s music uplifting people, he also commented on Williams’ 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.” They many not have been gospel music but the church rocked. His back ups … Jenifer Lewis, Dottie Peoples and Angie Stone learned that afternoon they would accompany Stevie.
Jennifer Holliday in a bright purple suite with rhinestones’ with the Aretha Franklin Celebration Choir closed out the ceremony with a performance of “Climbing Higher Mountains.”
This service will be talked about years later and the event of the century.