Aretha Franklin was a larger than life figure whose music and faith guided her 76 years on this earth. Today, friends, family and the city of Detroit celebrated the homegoing of the R&B superstar who earned the title of “Queen of Soul,” over the span of her 60+ year career.
She scored many a Saturday night while allowing the Lord to use her miraculous voice Sunday mornings, combining her love of God with her God-given talents as a musician. This theme came through clearly throughout the service as well, as several of today’s most talented vocalists blessed Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple with their gifts while prominent ministers, bishops and politicians took to the pulpit to speak to Franklin’s character, charisma and unwavering dedication to Christ.
If there were ever any doubt as to how much Franklin has influenced a generation of singers, today’s music ministry was undeniable proof. From pop star Ariana Grande to country fave Faith Hill, melodies filled the sanctuary in tribute to the iconic chanteuse.
The Clark Sisters fought back tears as they powerfully sang their classic, “Is My Living in Vain.” Soon after, Vanessa Bell Armstrong brought the crowd to their feet with her signature grit as Hill, rapper Big Sean and several other congregants raised their hands in praise and amazement. Fellow gospel greats Marvin Sapp, Yolanda Adams, Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and one of Franklin’s favorites, Shirley Caesar, all shared their pain, sadness and ultimate joy over Aretha’s newfound heavenly peace through song, stirring the soul of everyone fortunate enough to witness this monumental memorial in the flesh.
Of course, Franklin’s legacy reaches far beyond the last pew, with R&B diva Fantasia kicking off those heels (with Franklin’s divine permission) and setting the stage on fire with her rendition of “Precious Lord.” Jennifer Hudson, who is set to play Aretha in her upcoming biopic, also blew the church doors open with her powerful pipes, bringing a tear to this writer’s eye.
In addition to several heartwarming musical tributes, the daughter of Detroit was memorialized by some of the most riveting speakers in the country. Bishop T.D. Jakes spoke of Franklin as a regal diva who sang for the Queen of England, later returning home to whip up homemade potato salad and fried chicken for her loved ones. Judge Greg Mathis also spoke of her down-to-earth nature while emphasizing her commitment to Black America, especially those within her beloved state of Michigan.
During his final conversation with “Sister Re,” Mathis reveals that she was justifiably disgusted with the ongoing Flint water crisis, telling the well-known judge to address the issue head on.
“Her last words were taken from the greatest song she’s performed. Somehow, it made me feel like she respected me. When I told her, ‘Ok, I’ll go back up there,’ she said, ‘yeah Greg, you go back up there, and you SOCK IT TO ‘EM!”
Reverend Al. Sharpton spoke of the activism in her bloodline, as her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Franklin passed the fight on to his baby girl, who financed much of the movement without recognition and, along with Harry Belafonte, embarked on an 11-city tour with the sole purpose of donating the proceeds to civil rights leaders. Sharpton also addressed his recent flub where he misspelled Aretha’s hit, “Respect,” on television while calling out President Trump for having the audacity to say Franklin “worked for” him.
Professor Michael Eric Dyson took exception with the statement as well, eviscerating 45 for his inaccurate choice of preposition while showing unadulterated love to the Motor City.
Other notables present to see Ms. Franklin off included Former President Bill Clinton, Tyler Perry, Cicely Tyson, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Richard Smallwood, Smokey Robinson, Isaiah Thomas, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder and Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan. The democratic leader also announced plans to rename Chene Park, a popular outdoor space and performance venue in downtown Detroit, to Aretha Franklin Park.
Aretha will forever be missed by her family, friends, fans and fellow artists, and while her service may have run a bit long, longevity has always been one of her strengths. To remain relevant for six decades is no easy feat, but with God, she knew all things were possible, and will continue to inspire for generations to come.