By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The accolades are still pouring in for the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, who captivated the hearts of fans all over the world. The music icon, who died of pancreatic cancer in her Detroit home Aug. 16 at the age of 76, will never be forgotten by music lovers.
The congregants at Holy St. Andrews Missionary Baptist Church honored the 18-time Grammy winner Aug. 24, hosting a joyous memorial celebration, featuring photos of the legendary singer at different stages of her career.
Franklin, was the daughter of preacher and civil rights activist Cecil L. Franklin. She grew up singing gospel music in her father’s church as a child and was mentored by Mahalia Jackson.
Franklin broke musical boundaries by singing gospel, blues, R&B and rock-and-roll music. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked Franklin as Number 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers of all Time.”
Despite her commercial success, Franklin never forgot her gospel roots.
“We know that [Earth] is not Aretha’s final resting place,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. John M. Culpepper Jr. “She has gone on home to the glory of Jesus.”
The Rev. Howard Burton, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, who delivered the invocation, once lived in Franklin’s hometown of Detroit and shared fond memories of the singer.
“Her father, Cecil L. Franklin, was one of the most powerful preachers I had ever heard in my life,” Burton said. “Aretha was a self-taught musician. She was a rare treasure, an unmatched musical genius. She learned how to play piano without taking lessons — she just had a natural ear. She could sing opera, and she didn’t even rehearse — she just sang on the spot.”
Pausing, he said, “I am deeply wounded about the passing of the Queen of Soul. The world is experiencing a tremendous loss.”
Bethel first lady Pam Burton revealed that her favorite Franklin inspired song was “Precious Lord.”
“I’ve loved her music throughout my whole life,” Burton said. “I remember as a child that whenever she appeared on various TV shows, I would cry out, ‘Mama! Aretha is singing and playing the piano on TV!’ I also remember when she sang at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony.”
Obama, a lifelong fan, requested that Franklin sing at his presidential inauguration in 2009. Not only did she enthrall the audience with her soaring rendition of “America (My Country, Tis of Thee),” but her voluminous grey hat accessorized with a humongous bow caused an instant sensation that set the internet on fire.
Burton also recalled when Franklin sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors. “I’ll never forget that President Obama cried during her performance,” she said.
“I loved it when she sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Respect,’ said audience member Alma Burgess, 79. “I also remember when she sang and danced in “The Blues Brothers” movie. I thought she was a beautiful person.”
Attendee Sonya Aretha Griffin was particularly touched by Franklin’s passing.
“My mother was a huge Aretha Franklin fan,” she said. “As a child, I woke up every morning listening to one of Aretha’s songs. In fact, mama even christened me with the middle name of Aretha.”
Filled with emotion, Griffin paid homage to the departed songstress by singing “Precious Lord,” “Jesus is the Light” and “Until You Come Back to Me.”
Marquitta Lloyd, dressed in a white choir gown and matching gloves, spritely danced across the church aisle while performing a spirited mime routine to a medley of Franklin’s songs, including “I Say a Little Prayer,” “He’s Able,” “Deeper Love” “How I Got Over” and “A Rose is Still a Rose” followed by an original poem dedicated to Franklin.
“I wanted the attendees to get a sense of all of the genres that Aretha Franklin played and sang,” said Lloyd, a praise dancer for 20 years.
Lloyd then kept the audience in suspense with a game of ‘Tic Tac Toe.’ People were divided into two groups to represent Franklin’s R&B and gospel songs. The competition turned hot and heavy as Lloyd read off the lyrics of various Franklin songs and each side attempted to guess what songs the lyrics were from.
“I hope they received fond memories of Franklin’s music,” said Lloyd, who added that the R&B players emerged victorious.
Pianist Shelly Terrell dazzled the audience by playing “Amazing Grace” and “Mary Don’t You Weep.”
“I love Aretha’s version, but I remember that my grandmother also used to sing ‘Weep,’” said Terrell, who tightly closed her eyes as her nimble fingers effortlessly tinkled the keys.
Many may not know that Franklin was also a staunch advocate for social justice and fully supported the civil rights movement, even going on an 11-city tour with the Rev. Martin Luther King and singer/activist Harry Belafonte.
On various occasions, she helped to finance King during his civil rights travels and occasionally financed the payroll for his civil rights workers. She also offered to post bail for revolutionary activist Angela Davis.
At the end of the ceremony, attendees filed out of the sanctuary into the church lobby and were surprised with an enormous “Aretha Franklin” cake. Gaily decorated with strawberries and red and white icing, the cake featured a colorful picture of a smiling Franklin swirling in a beautiful ball gown.
“Wow! This cake is almost too beautiful to eat!” said one attendee before devouring her slice with obvious delight.