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NPR Arts & Life

'She Was Our Queen': Fans Pay Their Final Respects To Aretha Franklin

Fans of Aretha Franklin attend a viewing for the soul music legend at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday in Detroit.
Fans of Aretha Franklin attend a viewing for the soul music legend at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday in Detroit.

Hundreds lined up Tuesday outside Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where Aretha Franklin's body is lying in repose for two days ahead of her funeral on Friday.

"This is history right here," said 22-year-old Sidney Lloyd of Detroit. His family arrived by 7 a.m. Tuesday to be among the first to say goodbye to the Queen of Soul.

"We are here to respect Aretha Franklin," Lloyd said. "Her voice is a national treasure."

Fans here talked about how Franklin's music marked milestones in the nation's history – from singing "Precious Lord" at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inauguration:

"I think it's amazing that she lived through segregation era all the way to the first black president," said Lloyd.

But she also provided the soundtrack for personal moments. And as fans waited to see the icon, they would break out in song, others in the crowd joining in.

Paula Sands was with a group of women from Detroit who called for a little " Respect" before a short rendition of " Think."

"She was our queen," Sands said. "May the Lord bless her soul."

Inside, mourners heard Franklin's gospel recordings as they filed past her gold-plated casket, where she was dressed in vivid red, including her high heels, and flanked by enormous arrangements of purple, pink and yellow roses.

Aretha Franklin lies in repose this week in Detroit.
Paul Sancya/Pool / Getty Images
Aretha Franklin lies in repose this week in Detroit.

It was a bonding moment for Sir Diego Brazil, who exchanged phone numbers with people he met.

"We all just experienced history together," he said. "And love. It's awesome."

Brazil came from North Miami Beach to be here for this last public appearance of someone he considers a hero. He said Aretha Franklin's music has inspired him even in the darkest of times.

"Power, healing, motivation, encouragement, joy," he said. "That's what she is. She's whatever genre you are."

Lisa Weber from Minneapolis could hardly speak after walking through the viewing.

"I just love Aretha Franklin," she said. "Never going to be anyone like her again."

Carrying an umbrella adorned with a purple feather boa, Jennifer Jones of New Orleans came to celebrate Franklin's life in the traditional Louisiana way.

Jennifer Jones of New Orleans says Franklin made a mark by punching through the obstacles women faced in what she calls the "hellified" music business.
Debbie Elliott / NPR
Jennifer Jones of New Orleans says Franklin made a mark by punching through the obstacles women faced in what she calls the "hellified" music business.

"They call me the dance queen of New Orleans so I had to honor the soul queen," Jones said, as she twirled her umbrella in the fashion of a second line jazz funeral procession.

"She changed the world."

Jones' father, Joe Jones, was a music producer. She said Aretha made a mark by punching through the obstacles women faced in what she calls the "hellified" music business.

"She cranked it out from her soul," Jones said. "She understood what humankind was, what the soul was, and that was what she felt was God's work and she brought it"

While Jones and others came from around the country to pay tribute, this is a particularly poignant moment for Detroit.

"She was Detroit," said Donna Dugeon. "She didn't leave us."

She was Detroit. She didn't leave us.

Dugeon said other artists who found fame moved to New York or Los Angeles. But Franklin stayed put and that means something.

As people reflected on what Franklin did for the city, Eusebia Luna Aquino-Hughes stepped up with the story of how Aretha Franklin put her through nursing school.

Aquino-Hughes said she was working in the nursing home that cared for Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, in the 1980s.

"I was working two jobs and I was homeless paying for nursing school, and she offered to pay for my nursing school," said Aquino-Hughes. "She saw I was struggling and offered to help me — that's who she was."

And Aquino-Hughes wasn't alone.

"Twelve of us are nurses today because of Aretha Franklin," Aquino-Hughes said.

Parked in front of the museum was a vintage 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse, waiting to take the Queen of Soul on to her funeral and final resting place. It's the same vehicle used in the funeral processions of her father and civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

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