Several civil rights leaders, former presidents and others offered touching and poignant tributes to Aretha Franklin, affectionately known to the world as the Queen of Soul, during her funeral in Detroit on Friday.
Rev. Al Sharpton and Smokey Robinson addressed mourners at the packed Greater Grace Temple. Sharpton also read a letter by Barack Obama to the crowd. The speakers talked about Franklin’s spirit, character and her life’s work in music and helping people of color.
“We watched Aretha bear her cross down here,” Sharpton said. “She had to sing with a broken heart. She had to work when she didn’t get paid. She was a black woman in a white man’s world. She bore her cross. She fought the good fight. All of her life she supported the causes. She was a feminist before feminism was popular. She was a civil rights activist when it wasn’t popular,” he said. “She gave us pride, and she gave us a regal bar to reach…We don’t all agree on everything. But we agree on Aretha.”
The civil rights leader and head of the National Action Network summed up how Franklin had raised money for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and supported civil rights causes. He also addressed how Trump said that the music icon had worked for him.
“When word had went out that Ms. Franklin passed, Trump said, ‘She used to work for me.’ No, she used to perform for you,” Sharpton said. “She worked for us. Aretha never took orders from nobody but God.”
Robinson shared childhood stories about the legendary singer and sang songs. The two had a special bond, he said.
“I go and look in that room and I see you, and you’re there and you’re singing,” Robinson said. “It was my first meeting and my first sight of you. From that moment on, almost, we have been so, so close and so tight and I didn’t know, especially this soon that I was going to have to say goodbye to you.”
It was decades ago when Robinson met Franklin and her brother at the age of 8, he said. He went to the family’s home in Detroit as a child and heard Franklin singing and playing the piano. He remembered those fond memories, saying farewell to his dear friend.
“Now my longest friend has gone home, and you want to be with our Father, like we all have to do one of these days,” Robinson. “You’re going to be one of the featured voices in the choir of angels.”
Obama, via a letter shared by Sharpton, said that Franklin had “lifted millions.”
“Whether bringing people together through thrilling intersections of genres or advancing important causes through the power of song, Aretha’s work reflected the very best of the American story, in all of its hope and heart, its boldness and its unmistakable beauty,” the former president wrote in the letter.
Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general, also spoke about Franklin.