A seemingly never-ending line of entertainment and political luminaries joined thousands of friends, family members and fans in Detroit Friday to bid farewell to the Queen of Soul.
Pop singer Ariana Grande was among the A-list stars and music legends who rendered musical tributes during the funeral for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, which began at 10 a.m. and ran far beyond its scheduled 3 p.m. end time.
Grande’s performance of the 1967 Franklin classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” was described as a nerve-wracking an assignment, partly due to Franklin’s astonishing Kennedy Center rendition of the song. To her credit, Grande sang the song well, without trying to imitate Franklin’s incomparable style.
Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse L. Jackson Sr. as well as Minister Louis Farrakhan and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were among those who shared the pulpit Friday, including former President Bill Clinton, who spoke about how he and Hillary Clinton were “like Aretha groupies or something” in their youths.
“When we are getting out of college is when [Franklin] finally got her big breakthroughs,” Clinton said. “It’s one thing I want to say to the people in the audience. She had the voice of generation, maybe the voice of a century.”
Holder described Franklin as a “rare queen who never lost the common touch,” adding that she never forgot where she came from and who she was reaching to.
“In her voice was shared the joys, sadness, pain and faith of a people,” Holder said. “Through the power of her artistry, her voice became universal for all people. You felt that in her music.”
Franklin’s granddaughter, Victorie Franklin, spoke about growing up in the presence of such an iconic singer.
“I remember when I was a kid people used to always ask me what does it feel like to be Aretha Franklin’s granddaughter? I would always shrug my shoulders and go, ‘I don’t know. It’s just my grandma,’” Victorie said. “When I would go to her shows and watch her sing, it would be the best feeling in the world. Nothing sounded better to me than the way my grandma sings. Her voice made you feel something. You felt every word, every note, every emotion in the songs she sang. Her voice brought peace.”
While former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle could not attend the service, they sent a letter expressing their condolences.
Franklin, whose body lay reposed in an open gold casket at the front of the church prior to the service. As mourners filed past the coffin, they saw the singer’s body dressed all in gold, with a long sequin gown and matching high heels.
Childhood friend and fellow music icon Smokey Robinson spoke directly to Franklin, telling her how the whole world mourned her death before singing his song, “Really Gonna Miss You.”
“I’ve been watching the celebration of your life from everywhere and I’ve been doing interviews from everywhere, from all over the world,” Robinson said. “In fact, the last one I did was from Brazil and the station that I was talking on covered all of South America. So the world is celebrating you. And the world is mourning you and the world is going to miss you.”