Still, it was Rev. Barber who remarked how only Aretha Franklin could bring together these religious, political and musical giants who may, or may not, particularly care for one another.


He urged those seated on the dais to come together again and do even more for the community—by helping motivate people to get registered to vote, which was a theme for many ministers who spoke.

Some, like Sharpton, mixed sweet stories about Franklin’s devotion to civil rights, women’s rights and movement work with calls for action.


“She fought for everybody,” Sharpton said. “She sang a song for all of us,” calling her the “soundtrack for the civil rights movement.”

Then Sharpton turned, and used President Donald Trump’s recent statement about Franklin’s passing, that she used to “work” for him, as a cudgel to beat the president with.


“She used to perform for you, she worked for us!” railed Sharpton. “[She took] orders from nobody but God.”

Dyson shared this sentiment and took it a step further, alluding that the continuing drama of the Mueller investigation was a divine sign that the Queen of Soul was now the “Queen of Souls” in heaven and was at work dolling out consequences and retribution for a morally bankrupt presidential administration. He called Trump a “lugubrious leech” and a “foolish fascist,” among other things, which got a hot, excited reception from the crowd.


“She ain’t work for you. She worked above you! She worked beyond you! Get your preposition right!” Dyson shouted.

During the funeral, there were many moments of levity (like R&B star Fantasia Barrino Taylor taking off her shoes to sing, only to have gospel icon, Pastor Shirley Caesar, dripping in a gold gown, politely pick them up and move them to the side) or weirdness, depending on your opinion, most at the hands of Bishop Charles H. Ellis, III, who was the officiant during the funeral. He called Bill Clinton “the first black president,” something I’m sure Clinton hadn’t heard since we elected an actual black president in Barack Obama back in 2008. Ellis joked how some of the white people in attendance (a personal side-eye from me to Hillary Clinton) were clapping “on the 1 and 3” instead of the one and two. Then things also got really strange when Ellis put his arm around singer Arianna Grande after she performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and he compared her to a meal at Taco Bell.


A star-studded affair, Smokey Robinson spoke and sang to honor his “longest friend.” Actress Cicely Tyson recited Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Gladys Knight surprised all by coming on stage to sing even though she wasn’t originally in the program. Tyler Perry, who created Franklin’s favorite TV show, OWN’s The Haves and Have Nots, talked about how Franklin loved his character Madea, even giving the audience one little Madea “hellur” for measure. Ron Isley slow-sang his way through “His Eyes Are on the Sparrow.” Music mogul Clive Davis shouted out Detroit saying, “Detroit, you led the world in loving Aretha.” Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas claimed his spot as Franklin’s “favorite Bad Boy.”

Everyone, it seemed, shouted out U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who folks applauded as she entered the funeral. (This happened several times—the audience also applauded for The View’s Whoopi Goldberg and Bill and Hillary Clinton.) People were told, repeatedly, at the beginning of the funeral to not take pictures or record on their cellphones out of respect to the family, but in my section, people did it anyway without any real reprisals, other than the occasional dirty look.

I was attending the funeral as a guest of Franklin’s longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn. Shocked to receive the invitation, I dropped everything, said yes, and immediately booked a ticket to Detroit. I spent most of my nine-hour excursion at Franklin’s funeral seated between Robin Schwartz, a former anchor and reporter from Detroit’s Fox 2 news who once interviewed Franklin, and Detroit native Pamela Harris, a mail carrier who said she grew up listening to Franklin’s music. Schwartz was attending the funeral with her husband, Jon Goldstein of Wayne State University, while Harris was one of the many locals who came out in full force to celebrate the life of the Queen, thrilling at many of the performances and speeches. We spent the entire funeral chatting about each performance—from the political to the secular to the religious—while sneaking bites of food. Schwartz and Goldstein were kind enough to give me one of their chocolate chip granola bars, which I munched on as I started to feel faint around hour six.


While the funeral was long, everyone who was able to attend—whether inside the air-conditioned church or outside with the news crews watching the proceedings unfold on a big screen in a gas station parking lot—was grateful to be a part of this historic event. After all, this was “a celebration fit for the Queen,” as was written on her funeral programs. And Franklin was a queen who loved to perform, who loved her people and loved the flare for the dramatic.

Considering that her funeral had all three of those things, I think she’d be pleased.