By Dorany Pineda
and Dennis J. Freeman
Thousands of fans, friends, celebrities and loved ones are set to converge on Detroit next week to pay final tribute to America’s “Queen of Soul,” an iconic talent who defined a musical era, inspired a generation of activists and blazed a trail of opportunity for dozens of R&B singers to follow.
A public viewing for Aretha Franklin, who died Aug. 16 at age 76 of pancreatic cancer, will be held Aug. 28 and 29 in Detroit, and a private funeral service is planned for her family and friends Aug. 31, as is a memorial concert Aug. 30.
“It’s going to be enormous. We have to remember who she was. … There will be thousands of people showing up,” said Jean Wright from the Swanson Funeral Home, which is handling her funeral.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who this week introduced legislation to posthumously award Franklin with a Congressional Gold Medal, saluted the cultural and artistic icon.
“From listening to ‘Mary Don’t You Weep,’ to standing in the living room dancing to ‘Rock Steady’ over and over again, to hearing from the Queen herself how lucky I was to be young, gifted and black — Aretha’s songs were the soundtrack of my childhood,” Harris said. “Aretha was simply a legend. Her work and impact will be felt for generations to come, and it’s long past time Congress honor her…”
The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park will pay tribute to the Queen of Soul at a date to be determined around Labor Day, said American jazz singer Barbara Morrison.
Franklin, who began her musical career during the 1960s civil rights movement, was a musical force whose voice was a beacon of hope, female empowerment and black power for countless Americans across many generations.
In the days following her death, fans of the late songstress commemorated her legacy locally and nationally.
In Hollywood, flowers, cards, photos and mementos adorned Franklin’s Walk of Fame star as fans took cell phone photos, touched her star and offered their memories.
“[Franklin’s death] didn’t dawn on me at first, but then I thought about my grandmother and my mom, the people, the people grew up listening to…,” said engineer/rapper Slimm Goodie, who paid the singer’s star a visit. “She was in my household. It’s actually devastating. I’m really hurt.”
In Leimert Park Aug. 17, fans gathered for a candlelight vigil, singing and dancing to Franklin’s classics, holding album covers and other memorabilia.
Since her passing, some of the nation’s most notable figures have paid their respects to the legendary and inimitable singer, including former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama.
“Every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine,” said the Obamas in a joint statement. “Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience.
“In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us forget about everything else and dance.”
Singer Sam Moore from the 1960’s soul duo Sam & Dave said he is heartbroken over the death of his friend, but is glad she’s in a better place.
“I know she’s in the Lord’s arms and she’s not in pain or suffering anymore from the damn cancer that took her away from us,” said Moore, a friend of Franklin’s of more than 60 years. “I’m going to hope, pray and count on the fact that I will see her again sometime. Rest in the Lord’s arms in love.”
In the span of her more than 50-year career, Franklin’s influence on American music here and abroad was astronomical. She was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, had 20 No.1 singles on the R&B chart, sold more than 75 million records in her lifetime and won 18 Grammy awards. Seventy-seven of her songs entered into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which for nearly 40 years made her the female artist with the most entries.
Her greatest hits include “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Think,” “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Throughout her lifetime and in the rich body of work she leaves behind, Franklin made a lot of people happy, Morrison, the singer, said.
“I think a lot of people didn’t know that the feeling of gospel could make everything enrich your whole life, and a lot of people didn’t understand gospel, but it’s so big,” she said.
“Aretha Franklin meant a whole lot to me,” said Tyrone Augustine, a Leimert Park resident. “She was the soundtrack to my life. Ever since I opened my eyes, when I was an infant, her music was playing, all through my life. Everything from ‘Respect’ to ‘Do Right,’ all those songs, those are great songs and they got us through the times as people and we will never have nobody like Aretha Franklin again, not in this lifetime. All I want to say to Aretha Franklin is, thanks for the memories.”
And the grandeur, influence and loss of Franklin, said Jean Wright from the Detroit funeral home, was palpable in her home city the day the musical icon died.
“[There was an] overwhelming response. … The day she passed away in Detroit was a very gloomy day. The sun just absolutely refused to shine,” she said. “There’s an old blues song that says ‘The sky is crying, don’t you see the tears rolling down the street?’ That’s what Detroit looked like the day she passed away.”
Franklin is survived by her four sons: Clarence, Edward, Ted and Kecalf.
Kristina Dixon also contributed to this story.
Upcoming Tributes to Aretha Franklin in L.A.
- Love for Aretha Franklin Tribute—7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Holy St. Andrew’s Missionary Baptist Church, 2410 W. Florence Ave., South Los Angeles, 90043
- Aretha Franklin Tribute Sunday Brunch Buffet–– 6 to 9 a.m. Aug. 26 at 1071 Glendon Ave., Westwood Village 90024
- Aretha Franklin Tribute Skate––8 p.m. to midnight Sept. 6 @ Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Rd., Glendale 91204
- Aretha Franklin Tribute––9 p.m. Sept. 14 at The Canyon at The Rose, 254 E. Green St., Pasadena 91101
- Tangerine-Sweet Soul Aretha Franklin Tribute––10 p.m. to midnight Aug. 25 at Atwater Village Tavern, 3216 Glendale Blvd. 90039