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Aretha Franklin's star-studded funeral: Jennifer Hudson's 'Amazing Grace,' Fantasia's shoeless performance, Chaka Khan's fan, and more

Yahoo Music Staff
Yahoo Music

The funeral for Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 16, took place Friday at the Greater Grace Temple in her home city of Detroit, and it was a “homegoing” most definitely fit for a queen.

A gold-plated casket carrying the legendary singer arrived at the church around 7:45 a.m., with Franklin dressed in a sparkling gold gown and sequined heels for her final outfit. Hundreds of mourners gathered to get one last glimpse of the Grammy winner.

Jennifer Hudson gave a forceful performance at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Franklin arrived in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse and there were more than 100 pink Cadillacs lined up out on Seven Mile. It’s a nod to her 1980s hit “Freeway of Love,” in which she sang, “We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac.”

According to AP, floral arrangements from Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, and from the family of Otis Redding were set up in a hallway outside the sanctuary. An arrangement from singer Sam Moore included a card that read, “You know I always adored and loved you to bits and pieces. … Even when we would fuss.”

“It is my goal and my aim to ensure that people leave here with some kind of spiritual awakening,” Bishop Charles Ellis III of Greater Grace told AP. “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, that a person regardless of how famous she became, no matter how many people she touched around the world, she still could not escape death. And hopefully, a lot of people here with money and fame and influence and friends and notoriety and wealth, hopefully they will think of their mortality and say there is something bigger than fame, there is something bigger than Hollywood, something bigger than being a recording artist and selling gold albums or what have you.”

The first pop music performer of the morning was Faith Hill, whose sightly screechy, if clearly passionate, rendition of the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” drew mixed reactions on Twitter. Better received was Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s subsequent declaration that Detroit’s Chene Park will be officially renamed Aretha Franklin Park. After that announcement, Bishop Ellis quipped, “And the mayor just got reelected!”

Next up, Ariana Grande caught some Twitter flak for wearing a short dress in church (and for her fiancé, Pete Davidson, getting VIP seating at the service) — but no one could fault her nearly note-perfect performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which she had previously sung with the Roots on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on the day of Franklin’s death. Bishop Ellis joked that he needed to get wise to Grande’s talents, saying, “When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell,” before giving Grande serious praise.

When the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke, he encouraged the crowd to teach President Trump what “Respect” means. Sharpton explained that he said this because of Trump’s comment upon Franklin’s death that she had worked for him. “No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us,” Sharpton said to uproarious applause. “Aretha never took orders from nobody but God.” He also read a statement from former President Barack Obama before handing the stage over to Smokey Robinson and the Clark Sisters.

The singer’s granddaughter, Victorie Franklin, explained that listening to Aretha sing has always given her “the best feeling in the world.” It inspired Victorie to become a performer herself. “I love you grandma, and I will make you proud,” she said.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Franklin “was a part of the movement that set this nation free.” Her voice, Holder said, was even more rare than once in a lifetime, that it’s something that never has and never will exist again. “Aretha Franklin made the world more beautiful and more understandable,” Holder said. “She comforted us and she inspired us. God sang through her.”

Former President Bill Clinton, who requested Franklin perform at both his inaugurations and other events, joked that he was ashamed at just how curious he was to see the fashionable ensemble chosen for Franklin’s body. “I said, ‘I wonder what my friend’s got on today,’” Clinton quipped, before lauding the singer for her compassion — “She cared about broken people” —  and her dedication to refining her talent.

“She worked her can off to get where she was,” said Clinton, who ended his tribute by playing Franklin’s rousing track “Think” on his phone and holding it up to the microphone.

The crowd jumped to its feet for Chaka Khan’s take on the gospel song “Goin’ Up Yonder,” which conspicuously featured a big blue folding fan. Then, Ron Isley slowed things down with another hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

Chaka Khan brought a fan along. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Fantasia Barrino kicked off her performance by removing her shoes, and fiercely launched into a medley of songs, including the gospel standard “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”

Fantasia Barrino performing barefoot at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Director Tyler Perry recalled that his mother introduced him to Franklin’s music, and he joked that he could always tell how his parents’ relationship was working by which songs she was playing. (“Think” was not a good sign.) After Perry’s character Madea became popular, he was surprised to receive a phone call from the legendary singer, asking him to go into character for her and laughing when he did.

Cicely Tyson, an icon herself, took the stage wearing a large hat that the internet certainly enjoyed, followed by music producer Clive Davis. “She was a true Renaissance woman,” Davis said of Franklin. “She loved art, she loved fashion, and she loved food. … She loved life.”

Clad in some headgear of her own, a fascinator like those regularly worn by the royals, Jennifer Hudson belted out an emotional version of “Amazing Grace,” leaving some audience members in tears.

Singer Gladys Knight made a surprise appearance at the event, long enough for both a musical performance and a minor controversy, sparked when Knight said in an interview outside the funeral that she and Franklin “had the same disease.” Her publicist later clarified that Knight does not have pancreatic cancer.

Gladys Knight performing during the funeral service for Aretha Franklin. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

At the end of a day packed with tributes from luminaries, musicians, and more, all of them singing Franklin’s praises, her longtime friend Stevie Wonder took the stage to sing his tune “I’ll Be Loving You Always,” before the pallbearers took their places and audience prayed.

Stevie Wonder

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