Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Aretha’s star-studded funeral is a show of love and respect
Starting about 50 minutes later than scheduled after a cavalcade of fans, celebrities, elected officials and religious leaders filed inside the sanctuary, the funeral for the legendary Queen of Soul took place Friday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.
The star-studded service – featuring speeches and musical tributes to Aretha Franklin by such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, singers Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and Faith Hill, Motown great Smokey Robinson, former Piston Isiah Thomas and others – followed a weeklong celebration of Franklin’s life and musical career, including three days of public viewings that drew thousands from her hometown, Michigan and a multitude of states beyond.
Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer. Her funeral was scheduled to end at 3 p.m., but ran longer.
Greater Grace pastor Charles Ellis, at the beginning of the service, addressed the late start and asked speakers and performers to do their best to stick to the schedule.
“It is our task to move this service along and honor the wishes of the family,” he said. “It took a little time to get in here, but I believe the Queen wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Speakers and performers obliged for the most part, including Mayor Mike Duggan, who announced early during the service that he and City Council plan to rename the riverfront Chene Park concert venue “Aretha Franklin Park.”
“Each time she soared, it felt like the people of Detroit soared with her because she never forgot her connection to the city,” Duggan said. “When Aretha Franklin sang, it felt like the voice of Detroit.”
Among other highlights of the service:
❚ Former President Bill Clinton, in remarks that stretched about 12 minutes, said the secret to Franklin’s greatness was that she took her talent “and decided to be the composer of her own life’s song – and what a song it turned out to be.”
He said Franklin “lived with power. Not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses. I just loved her.” Clinton, who described himself and his wife, Hillary, as “groupies” of Franklin, ended his remarks by playing a snippet of her hit song “Think” on his cellphone, which he held up to the microphone. “God bless you, Aretha,” Clinton said. “We love you.”
❚ Pop superstar Ariana Grande took the stage to sing a version of the Franklin hit, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
❚ Smokey Robinson told the crowd one of his “longest friends has gone home,” before breaking into an a cappella version of “Really Gonna Miss You.” He sang, “… for the rest of my life, gonna be thinking about you. I’ll miss you my buddy. I’ll miss you my friend. I know that my love for you will never end. Will never end.”
❚ The Rev. Al Sharpton, in response to President Donald Trump’s comments that Franklin worked for him, said: “She performed for you. She worked for us.” He asked the crowd to help him teach Trump the meaning of respect.
❚ Hours before the service, fans began lining up, jostling for position as police shuffled them around the streets surrounding the west-side church.