When mourners arrive at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple on Friday, August 31 to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, they will be greeted with a sea of pink—pink Cadillacs, that is.
Legions of sales directors from multi-level marketing company Mary Kay, one of the largest direct sellers of cosmetics worldwide, will be parking their famed pink Cadillacs en masse on Seven Mile Road in front of Greater Grace. It’s a visual tribute to Franklin, whom, in her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love,” memorably sang:
We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
Wind’s against our backs
We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink Cadillac
But in all honesty, when one of our readers emailed us on Tuesday to angrily inform us of the tribute—with the subject heading “Aretha Franklin’s Funeral now a Mary Kay Convening”—we were initially aghast. The idea of Aretha’s funeral potentially being co-opted by what appeared to be a corporate statement admittedly gave us serious pause.
To gather more insight, The Glow Up reached out to tribute organizer Crisette Ellis, a Mary Kay national sales director and first lady of Greater Grace Temple, to ask about the inspiration and intent behind the tribute. Ellis informed us that the idea actually originated with her husband, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who was inspired by a police tradition in honoring fallen comrades.
My husband and I were talking, and at our church—which we really consider a community church—oftentimes, we host a lot of the funerals for our fallen officers. And many times, when we have their funerals, they always pay tribute to the fallen officers by having lots of police cars ...
[My husband] said “You know, wouldn’t it be awesome to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin with like, a sea of 100 [pink] Cadillacs—everywhere you could look, there would be Cadillacs” ... Everyone that knows her music is familiar with her song [“Freeway of Love”] and “riding on the freeway of love in a pink Cadillac,” and we just thought how apropro that would be, to show her some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
But while Ellis acknowledges that the pink Cadillac, which is only awarded to those who reach the director level, is also synonymous with R-E-S-P-E-C-T within the Mary Kay community, she insists this display is not in service or promotion of the cosmetics juggernaut but solely as a silent tribute to the legend known as the “Queen of Soul.”
“We did not want to highlight Mary Kay, but really just to pay tribute to this phenomenal woman who has meant so much to so many,” she told us. (It’s worth noting that the Mary Kay name appears nowhere on the promotional flyer inviting fellow pink Cadillac owners to participate.)
But before organizing the tribute of approximately 100 Cadillacs from all over the country (which will be coordinated by on-site police), Ellis first approached Franklin’s family, who gave their enthusiastic assent to the display that will greet mourners next Friday.
It really was just an idea—and of course, we would have never done anything like this without running it past the family, because at the end of the day, we want to keep the focus on Ms. Franklin [and] all that she meant to the world. It’s not a “Mary Kay thing,” it’s a celebration of her life; we just happen to have pink Cadillacs, which [reference] one of her songs.
And so, when we shared with [the family] what we wanted to give to her, and made sure that they were comfortable with it, they thought it was a beautiful tribute and had absolutely no problem with us recognizing her and paying homage to her in that kind of a way.
And though Ellis is a 25-year-veteran with the company, she made clear that Mary Kay’s corporate offices have had absolutely nothing to do with coordinating this effort, outside of granting permission for their symbol of leadership to be used. In fact, the company was adamant the focus stay on Franklin, instructing any participants who may speak to the media to maintain the singer’s legacy as their sole talking point.
And that’s what native Detroiter Ellis wants too, reminding us about Franklin’s philanthropy and arts activism during the civil rights movement, when she used her incredible voice to help raise money for the release of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and later offered to provide bail for Angela Davis. But for all her altruism, Franklin was also a lady who loved grand displays of luxury—so maybe a sea of Cadillacs isn’t so off the mark, after all.
“She is a hometown legend [and] icon,” Ellis told us. “Just the inspiration she has given over the years ... her music has transcended generations ... She has just been a big inspiration for women; to know that not only do you use your gift to bless people, but she used her voice to make a change in society. ... She’s a hero. She’s a she-ro.”