An all-star line-up of mourners filled a Detroit church with prayers and songs yesterday for Aretha Franklin’s funeral, honouring her not just as the Queen of Soul but also as a lifelong friend, family member, churchgoer and activist.
Guests at the Greater Grace Temple included former president Bill Clinton, former first lady Hillary Clinton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Motown legend Smokey Robinson.
Robinson remembered first hearing Aretha Franklin play piano when he was just eight and their remaining close for the rest of her life, talking for hours at a time. “You’re so special,” he said, before crooning a few lines from his song Really Gonna Miss You.
“Really gonna miss you, really gonna be different without you,” he sang.
Expected to last several hours, the service encompassed many elements, emotions and grand entrances that were hallmarks of her more than six decades on sacred and secular stages. It was a send-off both grand and personal.
Ariana Grande sang one of the Queen of Soul’s biggest hits, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and Faith Hill performed What a Friend We Have In Jesus. The Aretha Franklin Orchestra performed a medley featuring I Say a Little Prayer, Angel and other songs the Queen of Soul was known for, along with gospel numbers I Love the Lord and Walk in the Light.
Barbara Sampson read a statement from former president George W Bush, saying that Franklin would continue to inspire future generations. Reverend Al Sharpton read a statement from former president Barack Obama, saying that Franklin’s “work reflected the very best of the American story.”
Sharpton received loud cheers when he criticised President Donald Trump for saying the singer “worked for” him as he responded to news of her death. “She performed for you,” Sharpton said of Franklin, who sang at Trump-owned venues. “She worked for us.”
Franklin’s body arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse.