Aretha Franklin: Stars and fans say goodbye at emotional, seven-hour funeral

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Musicians, family, friends and fans have said a final goodbye to Aretha Franklin at her funeral in Detroit.

Lasting over seven hours, the memorial was both mournful and celebratory, with the crowd breaking into a spontaneous dance of praise at one point.

Focusing on Franklin’s gospel roots, the service featured music from Ariana Grande and Chaka Khan, with Stevie Wonder delivering an emotional finale.

Franklin died earlier this month of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.

Her final send-off involved 100 pink Cadillacs, a gold-plated coffin, three presidential tributes and eulogies by more than a dozen preachers.

They remembered her not just as the Queen of Soul, but as an aunt, grandmother, friend, civil rights activist and icon of black womanhood.

“The reason that we are here today is because of love. Because of how much we love this woman,” said Stevie Wonder, who led the congregation in a rendition of his song As, which carries the refrain: “I’ll be loving you always”.

“One of my longest friends has gone home,” added Motown star Smokey Robinson, who grew up with Franklin in Detroit.

“You’re going to be one of the future voices in the choir of angels,” he added, before breaking into an a capella rendition of his ballad Really Gonna Miss You.

“Aretha will be influencing others literally for centuries to come,” said record label boss Clive Davis, who praised her “once-in-a-lifetime voice”.

Pop star Ariana Grande sang one of Franklin’s signature songs (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman but elsewhere, the service was like a Who’s Who of gospel with powerful and uplifting performances from The Williams Brothers, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and The Clark Sisters.

Jennifer Hudson’s stirring rendition of Amazing Grace; and Gladys Knight’s version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, in particular, drew mourners to their feet, with others raising their arms in praise.

Franklin’s son Edward also sang Marvin Gaye’s Mercy, Mercy Me; while her niece Cristal remembered the aunt who “taught me bad shopping habits” and “chartered a bus so our family could go to President Obama’s inauguration”.

Obama was unable to attend the funeral, but sent a speech to be read to the mourners.

“Through her voice, her own voice, Aretha lifted those of millions – empowering and inspiring the vulnerable, the downtrodden, and everyone who may have just needed a little love,” read his message.

George W Bush also sent a letter to Franklin’s family; while Bill Clinton spoke from the pulpit, describing himself as an “Aretha Franklin groupie” and praising the star’s work ethic.

“Yeah, she had the voice of a generation, maybe the voice of the century… but she also worked for years when nobody was paying particular attention.

“She lived with courage – not without fear but overcoming her fears.

“She lived with faith – not without failure but overcoming her failures.

“She lived with power – not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses.

“I just loved her.”

Franklin’s contribution to the civil rights movement – both spiritual and financial – was honoured by Rev. Al Sharpton, who said: “She represented the best in our community and she fought for our community until the end.

“She gave us pride and she gave us a regal bar to reach. And that’s why we’re all here. We don’t all agree on everything but we agree on Aretha.”

He went on to criticise President Trump, whose initial tribute to Franklin two weeks ago said, “she worked for me on numerous occasions”.

“No, she used to perform for you,” scolded the pastor. “Aretha never took orders from nobody but God.”

 

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