Detroit Says Goodbye To Aretha Franklin

Aug 31, 2018
Originally published on August 31, 2018 2:10 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Fans of Aretha Franklin in Detroit have spent all week celebrating her life. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on today's funeral.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Tens of thousands of people have waited in long, hot lines to say farewell to Aretha Franklin this week. The final opportunity was at her home church yesterday, New Bethel Baptist, led by her late father.

ELAINE RICHARDSON: Gentlemen, you've got to take off your hats, please.

ELLIOTT: Usher Elaine Richardson is dressed head to toe in crisp white, a nurse's cap pinned to her head. She's at the sanctuary door handing out tissues and keeping the line moving.

RICHARDSON: Well, God bless you, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, I got a good God.

RICHARDSON: God is a good god. You're going to see how good he is when you go in there and see my girl. You're going to see how good...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I saw her when she was 16.

RICHARDSON: Oh, see. Well, she looks good, baby. She looks real good.

ELLIOTT: Inside the sanctuary, two screens flanking the open casket show images of Franklin over the years. Her music is playing, interspersed with excerpts of sermons from her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Janice Waters waited more than an hour to pay her respects.

JANICE WATERS: Oh, she was magnificent. Hair was beautiful, legs graciously crossed - and I loved, Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, that was embroidered in the back.

ELLIOTT: The words are stitched in gold in the lining of the coffin. Waters says it's a bittersweet moment.

WATERS: Even though it's a loss for a great queen, it brought Detroit together. When we in line, everybody was looking after my grandson, and everybody just showing love and kindness. It's just a great day.

ELLIOTT: Cheryl Shannon came in from Minneapolis to join her sister, Tanyia, at the viewing. The Shannon sisters grew up here, their mother playing Aretha Franklin, a soundtrack they say shaped their lives.

CHERYL SHANNON: She taught you how to be a respectable woman.

TANYIA SHANNON: That song, "Respect," listen to the words. That's what it means, respect.

C. SHANNON: If young people today would listen to that song, it would change the way they look at themselves 'cause she taught us that.

T. SHANNON: Aretha Franklin's music taught you everything. You go back and listen to all her music, there's a message in every last song that she sang.

ELLIOTT: Outside the church, there's a celebratory spirit as people take pictures by the vintage Cadillac hearse that will take Franklin to her final resting place. About two dozen women wearing purple "Respect" t-shirts pose for the cameras.

BEVERLY STEPHENS-DAVIS: We came to say goodbye to the queen 'cause there'll never be another queen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right, now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You go, girl.

ELLIOTT: Beverly Stephens-Davis says they came on a bus from Toledo, Ohio.

STEPHENS-DAVIS: We got a great welcome from Detroit. Usually there's a lot of animosity. But as we got off the bus and walked down the street, everybody waves and just shook our hands. And that is - that is what John McCain asked for - peace and diversity.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Toledo? Toledo?

STEPHENS-DAVIS: Yeah, oh, yeah. Toledo in the house, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yes, we are.

ELLIOTT: As Aretha Franklin was being remembered in Detroit, across the country, Arizona was honoring Senator John McCain. Fans here say even in death, Franklin is bringing people together.

RICHARDSON: God bless you guys. Thank you so much for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Yeah, thank you.

RICHARDSON: You know Aretha loves Detroit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Yeah, she did.

RICHARDSON: And Detroit loves her. You can see.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Yes, ma'am.

ELLIOTT: The line never let up all afternoon. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.