Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, comedian and entertainment mogul Tyler Perry, and legendary actress Cicely Tyson are among the dozens of people who have paid tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin during an epic, hours-long funeral service in Detroit.
“She lived with courage. Not without fear, but overcoming her fears,” Clinton said of Franklin, who died August 16 of pancreatic cancer, at age 78. “She lived with courage,” he continued. “Not without fear, but overcoming her fears. She lived with faith. Not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power. Not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses.”
Clinton spoke of her generosity of spirit and her willingness to acknowledge fellow musicians and performers who had not achieved her legendary fame. He also made sure to note: “she worked her can off.”
Tyler Perry said his mother played Aretha Franklin songs on long drives, matching the music to her mood.
“I could tell what my father had done by the music she was playing,” he said. “If she was playing Respect, he had done something wrong. If she was playing Dr. Feelgood, he had done something right.”
Perry joked that Franklin kept the heat in her dressing room “somewhere between 85 [degrees Fahrenheit] and double-hell.” More soberly, he noted, “When Aretha sang gospel, something happened. Something would shake the room. When Aretha sang gospel, something shifted. Something happened in the atmosphere.”
Cicely Tyson, at 93 the grand dame of African American actresses, said, “She spoke to us through her soul and everything she experienced. And that’s why no matter what she was singing, she moved every single person.”
Tyson ended her tribute with a recitation of “When Malindy Sings,” a classic poem by African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. She replaced “Malindy” with “Aretha.”
“And you find your tears a-droppin,'” she said, “when Aretha sings.”
Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 76, has been dressed in four outfits as her body in state for public viewing over several days. While the week has been filled with tribute concerts and other high-profile celebrations of the singer and her remarkable life, funeral organizers say Friday’s funeral will be a religious service, not entertainment.
Bishop Charles Ellis the third, pastor of Greater Grace Temple, told the Associated Press before the service: “It is my goal and my aim to ensure that people leave here with some kind of spiritual awakening. … This is not a concert, this is not a show. This is not an awards production. This is a real life that has been lived.”
Franklin’s final days have been treated as a royal goodbye.
She is to be buried in a bronze casket plated with 24-karat gold. Franklin’s name and the title “Queen of Soul” are embroidered into the champagne-colored velvet lining the interior.
Franklin’s body was brought to the church in a white hearse that carried the body of her father, minister C.L. Franklin, in 1991 and civil rights leader Rosa Parks in 2005. She will be buried — like Franklin, Parks, and the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar — in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.