Detroit said a final goodbye to US music icon Aretha Franklin at her star-studded funeral on Friday, with her family joined by political dignitaries and music royalty in celebrating her life.
The 76-year-old singer, beloved by millions around the world, died of cancer on August 16, closing the curtain on a glittering six-decade career that made her one of America’s most celebrated artists.
Former president Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson are among those who addressed her six-hour, invitation-only funeral at the Greater Grace Temple. Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande are to lead musical tributes.
The service is for family and friends only, meaning that members of the public will have to watch online or on a giant screen reportedly being erected near the church. The formal part of the service is to begin at 10am (1400 GMT) in her Michigan hometown.
Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and was feted for her civil rights work, raising money for the cause and uplifting activists with her anthems.
She influenced generations of female singers from the late Whitney Houston to Beyonce, with unforgettable hits including “Respect” (1967), “Natural Woman” (1968) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968).
“I think it’s going to be a very upbeat service. I think it’s going to be a very jubilant service,” Bishop Charles Ellis, the officiating pastor, told AFP this week.
The daughter of a prominent Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, Franklin sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the inaugurations of presidents Clinton and Barack Obama.
She was awarded America’s highest civilian honor by George W. Bush in 2005. Letters from Bush and Obama are expected to be read at the funeral.
After the service, she will make her final journey in the same ivory 1940 Cadillac LaSalle that transported the body of her father in 1984, and that of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005.
‘Spirit of God’
More than 100 pink Cadillacs – a nod to her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love” – will reportedly line up outside the church. She will be buried in Woodland Cemetery alongside her father and siblings.
The funeral comes the morning after more than 40 artists performed at a free concert, billed “A People’s Tribute to the Queen,” spanning the R&B, Gospel, Jazz and Blues genres in which Franklin excelled.
Thousands of joyful fans packed into a water-front arena in Detroit, listening to guest singers powering through some of her greatest hits, culminating in an all-cast arrangement of “Respect”.
Her signature song, a feminist anthem, became a rallying cry as African-Americans rose up nationwide in the 1960s to fight peacefully for racial equality.
Her grandchildren spoke briefly, delivering heartfelt thanks on behalf of their family. “It’s truly inspiring to see how many hearts, how many people my grandma has touched,” said Victorie Franklin.
Dancing, excitedly taking selfies and filming parts of the concert on their cellphones, the evening was a chance for Detroit to celebrate the life and legacy of a towering figure regarded as local royalty.
“Aretha Franklin is awesome to me. My family have been listening to her for a long time,” said Felicia Christian, a 41-year-old teacher who got in despite not having a ticket after arriving hours early.
“I think she’s wonderful and I know that the spirit of God that’s in her is what brought all of us here.”
Headliners included The Four Tops, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Angie Stone, while a gospel choir took everyone to church, rousing the crowd to their feet with an electric, upbeat performance of classics and a powerful rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Tasha Page-Lockhart.
The concert followed three days of public viewings of her open, golden casket that drew thousands – at her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church, and the Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History.
On Thursday, she lay resplendent in a rose gold outfit and matching Christian Louboutin stilettos. On Tuesday, she wore a red dress with matching heels and on Wednesday she was in blue.