Memorable Moments From Aretha Franklin’s Funeral

Thousands of people packed a Detroit church on Friday to pay respects to Aretha Franklin, the musical giant whose legacy was evident in several hours of tributes in song. Here are some memorable moments.

The 25-year-old pop princess Ariana Grande created a stir on Friday when she appeared early in the program at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. Wearing a black dress that caused some eyebrow raises on Twitter, she performed a reserved version of the diva’s classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” saving her vocal firepower for the chorus. She received enthusiastic accompaniment from the house band at Greater Grace Temple.

But as she began to leave the stage, Ms. Grande was called back by the Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who thanked her and confessed that he was less than familiar with her work. “When I saw Ariana Grande at the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell,” he joked.

As they stood next to each other, the pastor’s arm around Ms. Grande’s waist, his hand remained pressed into the right side of her chest for more than 30 seconds. Viewers noticed Ms. Grande’s uncomfortable expression as she leaned away. Soon, the hashtag #RespectAriana was trending on Twitter.

The church set up a huge screen to livestream the proceedings for fans in a gas station parking lot up the street from the service. They jeered loudly when Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican, took the pulpit, still angry over his role in the Flint water crisis. But the mood turned jovial again when Ms. Grande followed with her rendition of “Natural Woman.” The entire parking lot joined Ms. Grande in the chorus.

Greg Mathis said his last conversation with the diva had been on the subject of the water crisis in Flint.CreditTannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock

Greg Mathis, the retired Michigan district court judge turned daytime television star gave one of the most memorable eulogies of the day, saying that his last conversation with Ms. Franklin had been on the subject of the water crisis in Flint. He recalled that after Ms. Franklin had shared her concerns about the governor’s office halting the distribution of water in the city, he had confessed to her that he had been mocked the last time he spoke out about the water crisis. People had told him: “‘That’s not your fight. Stay on television,’” he said.

Ms. Franklin, he said, had little patience for his concerns. “What, you’re scared?” he remembered her saying. “You’re supposed to be from Detroit! What you scared of?”

The conversation continued, he said, with Ms. Franklin sharing the last piece of advice that she would ever give him, quoting the wisdom that animated her most popular song.

He told her that he would again return to fight for the people of Flint. And “she said: ‘Yeah Greg. You go back up there, and you sock it to ‘em!’” Judge Mathis said.

“So in honor of my sister, I’m going to Flint and I’m going to sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em.”

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Cicely Tyson’s millinery alone enchanted viewers on Friday. The actress wore a sweeping, swooping, enormous black hat that caused cries of “mom,” “grandma” and “auntie” to echo through social media.

But her eulogy prompted more adoration as Ms. Tyson profoundly thanked Ms. Franklin’s family for the gift they had given the world in the form of the Queen of Soul. She then performed the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “When Malindy Sings,” replacing the name “Malindy” with “Aretha.”

Ms. Tyson even burst into song during the stanza in which the poem discusses the religious power of a great singer’s voice, drawing whoops and applause from the audience. And as she wound down, she sang again and appeared to shed a tear as she ended the poem with a verbal crescendo, channeling all the vocal power she could summon in memory of the departed singer.

The former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama sent statements to be read, but Bill Clinton appeared in person to declare that he and Hillary Clinton were lifelong fans. “We started out not as a president, a first lady, a senator, a secretary of state. We started out as Aretha groupies or something.” Then he paid tribute to her well-known love of fashion. “I want to say, and I hope God will forgive me, I was so glad when I got here and the casket was still open, because I said: ‘I wonder what my friend’s got on today. I want to see what the girl is carrying out.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton was the first to get political from the pulpit early in the proceedings. He took a direct shot at President Trump, whose tweet upon news of Ms. Franklin’s death upset some by noting that the singer “worked for me” at his casinos. Sharpton’s rebuke: “No, she used to perform for you. She worked for us.”

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson spoke at length about his own Parkinson’s diagnosis and revealed intimate details about Ms. Franklin’s own physical descent. But he also noted that Mrs. Clinton, who sat on the dais, lost the state of Michigan by about 10,000 votes, which could have been overcome had more African-Americans been registered and voted. “There was long lines at the museum for Rosa Parks,” he said, “long lines for Aretha, long lines today. We have long lines to celebrate death and short lines for voting.”

Tyler Perry recalled how his father viewed Ms. Franklin’s music as a good indicator of his mother’s moods. She was always playing Ms. Franklin’s records in the house, he said. “If he came home and she was playing ‘Respect’ or ‘Think,’ he knew he’d been doing something wrong. If she was playing ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ he was doing something right.”

Part of the beauty of “Amazing Grace” is it’s a song that belongs to no one. But Ms. Franklin performed a definitive, nearly 11-minute version that was captured on her 1972 live album “Amazing Grace.” And one of the next generation’s strongest voices infused it with all the heart and soul she could muster at the Queen of Soul’s funeral: Jennifer Hudson, the onetime “American Idol” and “Dreamgirls” star who is set to portray Ms. Franklin in the biopic “Aretha: From These Roots.” As Ms. Hudson threw her whole body into the performance, wailing on the high notes and willing herself to reach new heights, the crowd stood mesmerized, touched by her raw, spiritual performance.

Just after 6:20 p.m., hours after he was originally scheduled to perform, Stevie Wonder arrived onstage, grabbed hold of a microphone, and started to breathe through his harmonica for “The Lord’s Prayer.” When he sat down behind his keyboard to give a speech, he spoke of love:

“Please remember the greatest gift that we’ve been given in life itself is love,” he said. “We can talk about all the things that are wrong, and there are many, but the only thing that can deliver us is love. So what needs to happen today, not only in this nation, but throughout the world, is that we need to make love great again. Because black lives do matter. Because all lives do matter.”

Then he turned to musical matters, saying that he’d never imagined Aretha Franklin would sing “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” when he wrote it as a 15-year-old. “But she did. And better than I could have ever,” he said. He said that he had been speaking with Ms. Franklin about doing another song together: “But you know what,” he added, “I look forward to that time, if I’m so blessed, to be with her again.”

Then he began playing “As” from his landmark 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life,” and the band slid in behind him. The crowd stirred to its feet, the choir swelled and singers including Jennifer Lewis came to his side to sing the backing vocals. Mr. Wonder was restrained, keeping the spotlight on Ms. Franklin instead of his own performance. “God bless Aretha” he said as her coffin gleamed in the lights before him. “God bless you. Amen.”

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