Aretha Franklin’s Funeral: Service, Burial & What Happened

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Aretha Franklin was a legendary American singer-songwriter, pianist, actress, and civil rights activist. She began her historic career singing gospel music as a child. At the age of just 18, she started recording with Columbia Records and went on to become a pop icon and American superstar. 

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On August 16, 2018, the “Queen of Soul” passed away from a rare form of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 76. As fans mourned her loss worldwide, a spectacular four-day viewing and funeral took place in Franklin’s home city of Detroit, Michigan. 

What Was Aretha Franklin’s Funeral Like?

Aretha Franklin’s funeral was one of the most elaborate and highly-publicized celebrity funerals of the decade. A number of famous figures, from presidents to pop stars, attended the service and gave heartfelt eulogies. 

And every detail of the funeral, including its location, attendees, and performances, suited Aretha’s larger-than-life personality and career. 

Location

Franklin’s final goodbye took place at the Greater Grace Temple, located on the outskirts of Detroit. The megachurch includes seating for 4,000 guests, making it an appropriate venue for the supersized service. The church also hosted Rosa Parks’s funeral in 2005, at which Aretha Franklin was a featured performer. 

All along the road to the church, Seven Mile Road, families set up folding chairs and stood by holding signs as the procession drove by. While pink Cadillacs and luxury limos made their way to the venue, they passed fans wearing Aretha T-shirts and paying their respects. 

Aretha Franklin’s funeral service was also live-streamed, which meant fans everywhere could be in attendance, virtually. 

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What is a homegoing celebration? 

The basic style of the funeral was that of a homegoing celebration. This type of service is traditional in black and African American communities. Although it’s a Christian funeral service that includes eulogies and mourning, a homegoing also focuses on celebrating the life of the deceased. 

Aretha Franklin’s homegoing celebration reflects her roots in the Baptist Church, where she got started in music and performance. 

Funeral songs and performances

Befitting a woman known as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin’s funeral doubled as a legendary musical event. Many of Aretha’s fellow soul and R&B musicians sang gospels and funeral songs in her honor, in addition to a few pop performances. 

In addition to the billboard musicians listed below, Aretha Franklin’s son, Edward Franklin, performed a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me.” 

Here are the musicians who performed at Aretha Franklin’s funeral:

  • Chaka Khan
  • Gladys Knight
  • Stevie Wonder
  • The Clark Sisters
  • Shirley Caesar
  • Marvin Sapp
  • Audrey DuBois Harris
  • Williams Brothers 
  • Vannessa Bell Armstrong
  • Yolanda Adams 
  • Faith Hill
  • Ariana Grande
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Jennifer Holliday

Who attended

In addition to the musicians listed above who performed at the service, numerous other musicians, stars, celebrities, and notable figures attended Aretha Franklin’s funeral. 

They include: 

  • Jennifer Hudson
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Tyler Perry
  • Cicely Tyson
  • Omarosa Manigault Newman
  • Jenifer Lewis
  • Bill and Hillary Clinton
  • Rev. Al Sharpton
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson
  • Isiah Thomas
  • Ricky Dillard
  • Mayor Mike Duggan 
  • Eric Holder
  • Dennis Archer
  • KEM
  • Big Sean 
  • John Schneider
  • Renee Lawless
  • Aaron O'Connell

Several other political figures, including a senator, a governor, and two representatives, were also in attendance. As were additional religious figures, athletes, performers, and other figures. 

Eulogies and tributes

The musical performances might have been central to Aretha Franklin’s funeral service, but many speakers also gave eulogies and tributes. 

And although fans around the world mourned the loss of a musical icon, many eulogizers focused on Franklin’s impact politically and culturally. 

Here are some of the most notable eulogies and tributes that speakers gave at Aretha Franklin’s funeral service: 

  • Barack Obama and George W. Bush: Although the two ex-Presidents weren’t in attendance, they sent letters to be read aloud in tribute. Obama wrote that Aretha represented the “best of the American story.” 
  • Bill Clinton : Former President Bill Clinton gave a eulogy in which he described himself as a lifelong fan of Aretha. He stated that he and his wife, Hillary, were “almost groupies” of Franklin, and that he admired how hard she worked. 
  • Stevie Wonder: Before he performed towards the end of the ceremony, Stevie Wonder gave a touching eulogy for Aretha Franklin. In it, he referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and alluded to political tensions in the U.S., stating, “...the only thing that can deliver us is love. So what needs to happen today, not only in this nation, but throughout the world, is that we need to make love great again. Because black lives do matter.”
  • Cicely Tyson: Cicely Tyson performed a theatrical reading of “When Malindy Sings,” by the 19th-century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The poem was rewritten with “Aretha” in the place of “Malindy.”
  • Reverend Al Sharpton: Al Sharpton also referenced politics in his eulogy to Aretha Franklin, noting that she was a “civil rights activist and freedom fighter,” as well as a legendary musician. Sharpton added that Aretha Franklin was the “ soundtrack of the civil rights movement.”

Floral tributes

Just inside the church, guests were welcomed by a display of floral arrangements. Mourners who couldn’t be in attendance sent elaborate sympathy flowers and letters. 

Notable figures who sent funeral flowers to Aretha Franklin’s funeral include Barbara Streisand, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennet, Elton John, Diana Ross, and the families of James Brown and Otis Redding.  

Duration

Aretha Franklin’s funeral service at Greater Grace Temple was an all-day event, lasting over eight hours. But the public mourning period for Franklin lasted nearly a week. 

Her public open-casket viewing began the Tuesday before her funeral, which took place on a Friday. She laid in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located in Detroit. 

The viewing lasted three days, each of which Aretha was dressed in different attire. Visitors lined up before dawn to enter the museum and say goodbye to a national icon. 

Aretha’s funeral fashion

Just as the rest of her funeral was larger-than-life and in true Aretha Franklin style, so was her wardrobe. 

On day one of the viewing, Aretha Franklin wore a tea-length, bright crimson dress made of chiffon and lace with five-inch, Christian Louboutin heels. 

On day two, she wore a blue gown with high heels, and on day three, she wore a rose-gold dress and more heels. For the funeral and burial, Franklin was dressed in a gold gown. 

Procession

In her 1985 hit, “Freeway of Love,” the Queen of Soul sang, “We’re going riding on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac.” And her funeral procession brought those lyrics to life, 100 times over. 

More than 100 pink Cadillacs escorted the hearse carrying Aretha Franklin’s casket along Seven Mile Road to the cemetery where she was laid to rest. 

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How and Where Was Aretha Franklin Buried?

After the funeral at Greater Grace Temple, the funeral procession traveled 10 miles through Detroit to Woodlawn Cemetery. 

The cemetery is the final resting place of Aretha Franklin’s father, as well as two of his other daughters. Rosa Parks is also buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Although Aretha Franklin wore four different outfits during her viewing period, she was ultimately interred wearing a glamorous golden dress and glittering high heels. Her attire matched her 24-karat gold-plated casket, finished with a champagne velvet interior. 

Aretha Franklin Tributes and Memorials

Aretha Franklin’s service was a private funeral, which was invitation-only. But the family and funeral organizers ended up letting in around 1,000 fans. The fans had been waiting in line outside the church for hours, hoping for the chance to see the service in person.

But across the nation, and around the world, fans also set up their own memorials and paid tribute to Aretha Franklin in their own unique ways. Tributes featuring photos or Aretha, flowers, and handwritten letters appeared on her Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in California. 

And countless social media posts, including one from the ACLU stating, “We honor Aretha Franklin’s life and legacy of fighting for racial justice,” flooded the Internet. 

Honoring Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin might have passed away in 2018, but her music will live on forever. At the same time, the impact Franklin made on civil rights and culture will never fade away. Aretha Franklin’s star-studded funeral was perfectly suited to her style and her iconic career, and it’s one that helped define celebrity funerals in the 21st century. 


Sources

  1. Ritz, David. Aretha Franklin: American Singer.” Britannica. www.britannica.com/biography/Aretha-Franklin
  2. Sisario, Ben & Friess, Steve. “Aretha Franklin’s Funeral: Stars, Dignitaries and Fans Honor the Queen of Soul.” The New York Times. 31 August 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/08/31/arts/music/aretha-franklin-funeral.html
  3. St. Felix, Doreen. Aretha Franklin’s Funeral Fashion Showed Us How to Mourn.” The New Yorker. 1 September 2018. www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-sorrow-and-vitality-of-aretha-franklins-funeral
  4. Browne, David. Aretha Franklin’s Funeral: Views From Inside the Church.” Rolling Stone. 1 September 2018. www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/aretha-franklins-funeral-views-from-inside-the-church-718394/
  5. Graff, Gary. “15 Best Performances During Aretha Franklin's Funeral, a Celebration Fit for a Queen.” Billboard. 31 August 2018. www.billboard.com/articles/news/8473216/aretha-franklin-funeral-best-performances-list
  6. “Soul legend Aretha Franklin laid to rest at Detroit cemetery.” ABC Detroit.  1 September 2018. www.wxyz.com/news/soul-legend-aretha-franklin-laid-to-rest-at-detroit-cemetery
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