'She Was Our Queen': Fans Pay Their Final Respects To Aretha Franklin
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
People are paying their final respects to Aretha Franklin today. She's lying in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit as part of memorial activities this week in her hometown leading up to her funeral on Friday. NPR's Debbie Elliott spent time with fans as they waited to see the queen of soul a final time.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: By early morning, the line wrapped around the building as people waited to say goodbye to an icon.
SIDNEY LLOYD: This is history. This is history right here.
ELLIOTT: Twenty-two-year-old Sidney Lloyd of Detroit was here before 7 a.m. He calls her a national treasure.
LLOYD: We're here to respect Aretha Franklin. And she put a lot of her energy into giving back to the community. And I think it's amazing that she lived through segregation era all the way to the first black president. And she was able to perform at three inaugurations. A lot of people don't get to live through that.
ELLIOTT: Fans here talk 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 Obama's inauguration. But she also provided the soundtrack for personal moments. And today was all about breaking out in song.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T (laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And you better think.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Think.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) Think about what we're trying to do.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Hey, think, think, think.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Unintelligible).
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Oh, freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Singing) Freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Freedom.
ELLIOTT: Paula Sands is with this group of women from Detroit.
PAULA SANDS: She was our queen. She will forever be our queen.
ELLIOTT: Inside, mourners heard Franklin's gospel recordings as they filed by her gold-plated casket. She's dressed in vivid red, including her high heels, and flanked by enormous arrangements of purple, pink and yellow roses. It was a bonding moment for many.
SIR DIEGO BRAZIL: We all just experienced history together and love. This is awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Unintelligible) Keep in touch.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Travel safely.
ELLIOTT: Sir Diego Brazil came from North Miami Beach.
BRAZIL: I wanted and had to be here for her last public appearance, you know?
ELLIOTT: His favorite Aretha Franklin?
BRAZIL: (Singing) Got to find me an angel bum-bum-bum (ph) to fly away with me, yeah.
ELLIOTT: While Brazil and others came from around the country to be here, it's a particularly poignant moment for Detroit.
DONNA DUGEON: She was Detroit.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Yeah.
DUGEON: You know what I'm saying? She sang in Detroit.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Not was. Not was...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: She still is.
DUGEON: Well, she's still Detroit. But she didn't leave us.
ELLIOTT: Donna Dugeon says other artists moved to New York or LA once they gained fame. But Franklin stayed put, and that means something.
DUGEON: I love Aretha. My mama and daddy taught me how to - all about Aretha when I was a little girl. (Singing) Rock steady, baby, hear me now. Whoo (ph), that's what it was about. God bless you.
ELLIOTT: Patricia Crawford took a bus from a Detroit suburb to get here today.
PATRICIA CRAWFORD: I have so much respect for her. And people always have asked me, you know, why do you like her so much? Because she's touched my soul. And I like touching other people's souls.
ELLIOTT: She remembers growing up singing Aretha Franklin songs into her toothbrush.
CRAWFORD: (Singing) Looking out on the morning rain, I used to feel so uninspired.
ELLIOTT: Parked out front, a vintage 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse awaits to take the queen of soul on to her funeral and final resting place.
CRAWFORD: (Singing) You make me feel like a natural woman.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Detroit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN")
ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Oh, baby, what you've done to me.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) What you've done to me.
FRANKLIN: (Singing) You made me feel so good inside.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Good inside.
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