(CBS News) – A funeral in Detroit Friday caps off four days celebrating the life of , whose music career spanned six-plus decades. The Queen of Soul earlier this month at the age of 76.
An all-star lineup of mourners filled a Detroit church with prayers and songs for the funeral, honoring 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 Rev. Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
Robinson, the Motown great, remembered first hearing her play piano when he was just 8 and 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.
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.
Celebrity singers pay tribute in song
- Country singer Faith Hill was the first of many singers to take the stage
- Ariana Grande performed Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman” during the service
- Chaka Khan performed Tramaine Hawkins’s gospel staple “Goin’ Up Yonder”
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.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton among the speakers
The Rev. Jesse Jackson told Aretha Franklin to “sleep on” and “I’ll see you in the morning.” Jackson, who has Parkinson’s disease and is in his late 70s, spoke slowly as he stood in front of the gathered mourners at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. He led them in a prayer of thanks for Aretha and her minister father, asking that god make all in the church “better, not bitter,” by the time the day is over.
“Aretha’s not lost, we know where she is,” Jackson said. He praised her for the funding she gave to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and for singing through tear gas during the civil rights fight.
He said, however, that it was a shame that the lines to mourn famous people are long, but lines to vote are so short, lamenting that President Trump won Michigan by so few votes.
Jackson said if anyone who leaves the funeral and isn’t registered to vote “dishonors Aretha.”
Former President Bill Clinton memorialized Aretha Franklin as a woman with “breathtaking talent” who kept on charming audiences despite her illness. He recalled being an “Aretha groupie” all his life and being thrilled to meet her backstage at her last public performance, a benefit in Harlem for Elton John’s AIDS charity last year. She was “gaunt” but went on to perform for 45 minutes.
“How you doing, baby?” she asked him.
“I’m doing better now,” Mr. Clinton replied.
The former president also asked the audience to forgive him, saying he was happy that Franklin’s casket was still open when he arrived because he just had to see what she was wearing.
“I wonder what my friend has got on today,” Mr. Clinton said. “I wanted to see what the girl was carrying out,” to a wave of laughs and claps from the crowd. Franklin was wearing a gold gown, her fourth outfit of the week.
He ended his time by playing Franklin’s “Think” on his iPhone into the mic. “It’s the key to freedom!” Clinton said.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush didn’t attend Aretha Franklin’s funeral but they sent messages to honor the Queen of Soul. Mr. Obama, in a statement read by the Rev. Al Sharpton, hailed Franklin for reflecting “very best of the American story.” Her music, he said, “captured some of our deepest human desires, namely affection and respect.”
Mr. Bush’s statement, read by Franklin friend Barbara Sampson, called Franklin “a woman of achievement with a deep character and a loving heart” who made “lasting contributions to American music with her gospel-inspired style and distinctive voice.”