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Dozens of pink Cadillacs thronged the street in a procession leading to Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple Church — the first sign that Aretha Franklin’s funeral service would be fit for the “Queen of Soul.”
Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer, is being honored Friday morning with an invitation-only service for family and friends, capping a weeklong celebration of the late soul singer’s life in her hometown. Some open seats inside the church were made available to the public shortly before the service started.
There is a music-festival-worthy roster of performers set to sing at Friday’s funeral service, including Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, Ron Isley and Faith Hill.
Among the speakers delivering remarks are former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Tyler Perry, and Motown legend Smokey Robinson. The eulogy will be delivered by the pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.
The gold-plated casket carrying Franklin arrived at the church at 7:45 a.m. EST, with the processional set to begin at 10 a.m. EST. The service was expected to run at least five hours.
“After all she gave to the world, I felt we needed to give her an appropriate send-off that would match her legacy,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece, told The Associated Press.
Then there are the diva flourishes. Those pink Cadillacs are an homage to the vehicle at the center of the lyrics and video for Franklin’s ’80s hit “Freeway of Love. The procession was organized by Crisette Ellis — the wife of the Greater Grace Temple pastor, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III — who told NPR that 130 such Caddies were expected to participate.
Franklin was also feted Thursday with an all-star concert in Detroit’s Chene Park Amphitheater headlined by Patti LaBelle. Her fans got the chance to pay their respect with public viewings on Tuesday and Wednesday at the city’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Greater Grace Temple had a deep connection for Franklin: The “Natural Woman” crooner sang at the 2005 funeral for civil rights icon Rosa Parks. In a nod to that link, Franklin’s casket was ferried to the church in the same hearse that brought Parks there 13 years ago.
After the funeral service ends, Franklin will be buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, where several family members, including her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, are interred.