DETROIT (Reuters) – Hundreds of mourners gathered at a Detroit church on Friday for a music-infused funeral for Aretha Franklin, featuring tributes by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and singer Stevie Wonder to the Queen of Soul, who died this month at age 76.
The funeral, at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple, will include performances by those influenced by Franklin’s singular, soaring voice, including singers Chaka Khan and Ariana Grande.
Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will address the ceremony as well, honouring Franklin’s contribution to the movement for black empowerment, including through her signature 1967 song, “Respect.”
Having sung at the inaugurations of three presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – Franklin was an American institution. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President George W. Bush in 2005.
Clinton entered the church with his wife, Hillary, to loud applause and stood quietly by Franklin’s open casket before the service started. Franklin’s body was dressed in a golden sequined outfit.
The funeral was closed to the public, but crowds of fans gathered outside, many dressed in their church best.
“This is as close you get to royalty here in America and Aretha earned every bit of it,” Missy Settlers, a 53-year-old automotive parts assembler, said.
Franklin died at her Detroit home on Aug. 16 from pancreatic cancer. She began her musical career as a child singing gospel at the city’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father, C.L. Franklin, was the pastor, famous for his hypnotic sermons.
The city has treated her death as the passing of royalty. Franklin’s body laying in repose in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s grand rotunda for two days of public visitation earlier this week.
Her coffin is to be entombed on Friday in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery near the remains of her father; her brother, Cecil Franklin; and her sisters, Carolyn and Erma Franklin.