Aretha Franklin’s star-studded funeral got underway in Detroit on Friday, political dignitaries and music royalty joining family, friends and members of the public to bid goodbye to America’s “Queen of Soul.”
The service, a celebration of the life and legacy of one of the US music icon, is expected to last six hours at the Greater Grace Temple in her Michigan hometown.
The 76-year-old singer, beloved by millions around the world, died of cancer on August 16, closing the curtain on a glittering six-decade career that spanned Gospel, R&B, Jazz, Blues and even classical music.
Former president Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson are among those due to give eulogies, with music from Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson, who is to portray Franklin in an upcoming biopic.
Huge lines began forming on Thursday after it was announced that 1,000 members of the public would be allowed into the service, which was initially invitation only for friends and family.
Fans queued in funeral finery, vibrant dresses or even tracksuits and Aretha T-shirts, oblivious to the hot sun so determined were they to be a part of history, as neighbours stood outside their homes to watch.
“Aretha is my icon. She’s everything to me, like my mother,” said Ugochi Queen, a 46-year-old Franklin tribute artist dressed in black ruffles from Gary, Indiana.
“She’s just my idol, I love her, I love her music, I love the legacy that she lived,” she said. “I need closure and that’s why I’m here.”
‘Queen of our city’
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton accompanied her husband to the service. Actress Whoopi Goldberg was also among those invited. Huge blooms of lavender, white and pink roses adorned the church.
Outside, there was a heavy police presence, with roads sealed off, a helicopter circling overhead and officers patrolling on horseback. A screen broadcasting the funeral was erected in a nearby gas station.
Bishop Charles Ellis, the officiating pastor, has promised an upbeat and jubilant service that will be all about Franklin, uplifting her family in their time of grief and celebrating her gospel legacy.
She influenced generations of female singers from the late Whitney Houston to Beyonce, with unforgettable hits including “Respect” (1967), “Natural Woman” (1968) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (1968).
Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and was feted for her civil rights work, raising money for the cause and inspiring activists with her anthems.
She was voted the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and for African American women, in particular, was a role model and a benchmark for success, feminism and empowerment.
“She’s the queen of our city,” said retired nurse Pat Bills, another of those who waited in line, dressed in vibrant salmon pink.
“I’m so thankful that they’ve opened this up to the public so we can be a part of it… She’s given us all so much to be proud of.”
Pink Cadillacs — some having been driven across the country — parked en masse outside the church, expected to follow her cortege to the cemetery where she is to be buried alongside her father and siblings.
They are a nod to her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love,” an anthem to her Motor City hometown, in which Franklin sang about a pink Cadillac, the car company that was founded in Detroit in 1902.
Franklin is expected to make her final journey in the same ivory 1940 Cadillac LaSalle that transported the body of her father in 1984, and that of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005.
Detroit regards Franklin as royalty. For three days she lay in a golden, open-casket, wearing a different outfit each day — red on Tuesday, blue on Wednesday, rose gold on Thursday and a golden sparkling dress for her funeral on Friday.
Thousands and thousands of members of the public lined up to see her one last time — at her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church, and the Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History.
On Thursday, more than 40 artists performed for thousands at a free concert, billed “A People’s Tribute to the Queen,” powering through some of her greatest hits, culminating with “Respect.”
“It’s truly inspiring to see how many hearts, how many people my grandma has touched,” said her granddaughter Victoria Franklin.
The daughter of a prominent Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, Franklin sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the inaugurations of presidents Clinton and Barack Obama.
She was awarded America’s highest civilian honour by George W. Bush in 2005.