“Respect,” “Think”, “Freeway of Love.” “Natural Woman,” “Rock Steady,” “Angel” and “Daydreamin'” are just a few of the songs Aretha Franklin recorded that have likely formed part of your life’s soundtrack if you have ever listened to the radio, watched a music awards program, bought a CD or listened to Pandora.
So, it was with great sadness that music lovers heard that Aretha Franklin had passed away on Thursday, August 16th of pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, according to a statement her publicist issued.
Over the past roughly 12 years or so, I had come into contact with Aretha Franklin on about a dozen occasions and became familiar with her as well as members of her entourage.
I attended innumerable concerts given by the Queen of Soul. I chatted with her backstage at Radio City Music Hall after a concert. I attended a few of the birthday parties she hosted. I also had dinner with her once with a small group of about five other individuals at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut following her 2016 New Year’s Day concert (which I reviewed on The Lowdown.) So, I felt touched and experienced acute grief upon hearing of Aretha’s death.
Like so many others, I felt the need to journey to Detroit to pay R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the Queen of Soul.
The public was able to view Franklin’s body in Detroit for three days prior to the funeral. For two days, the Charles Wright African-American Museum welcomed an estimated 20,000 fans who lined up to view the Queen of Soul. Much was made of the fact that Aretha was dressed in head-to-toe red with her legs crossed and wearing Christian Laboutin signature red-soled shoes.
The New Bethel Baptist Church on Detroit’s West Side hosted the third day of public viewing.
That’s where the late singer’s father, the late Reverend C. L. Franklin, served as pastor for about 30 years. It is also the church where a young Aretha began to sing gospel publicly in the 1950s.
This is what it looked like outside the church as people waited in line more than two hours to see the Queen of Soul in repose.
That same night, a four-hour tribute concert was held in Franklin’s memory at amphitheater on Detroit’s waterfront in Chene Park.
The next day the funeral was held at Greater Grace Temple City of David.
Here is what it looked like outside the church with representatives from several media organizations on-hand to cover the funeral.
Flowers were on display in the lobby from several celebrities: Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey, Elton John and Diana Ross, among others.
Here are the flowers Barbra Streisand sent:
Also, here is the card attached to the flower from Miss Streisand:
Here are is a flower arrangement sent by Diana Ross and her family:
The church, which has a capacity for 4,000, was packed.
Ushers presented attendees with a booklet contained an obituary that summarized the Queen of Soul’s life and features on young Franklin on its cover wearing sunglasses.
Once inside, numerous individuals took to the pulpit to speak about the Queen of Soul and her legacy. Among them: Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, Recording Executive Clive Davis, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and President Bill Clinton.
President Bill Clinton recalled seeing Aretha during her last public performance in New York City for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Her recalled that she called him “Baby” and said, “I finally got skinny again.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced at the funearl that the city would rename the city’s Chene Park — calling it “Aretha Franklin Park.” ( Since the funeral, The Detroit City Council has unanimously voted to rename the site The Aretha Louis Franklin Park.)
Numerous recording artists sang during the funeral –including The Clarkk Sisters, Fantasia Barrino, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, Faith Hill, Gladys Knight and Jennifer Holliday, among others.
Here is a brief clip of Ariana Grande singing “Natural Woman” at the funeral:
After the eight-hour service, I walked out of the church where I ran into some of Miss Franklins’ back up singers: Fonzi Thornton and Tawatha Agee. Miss Agee summed it up when we spoke about what Franklin’s passing means to the music world. She said: “It’s really the end of an era.”
That’s the Lowdown.
For my take on Aretha’s final New Year’s Day concert ever, check out this link: