Rev. Jasper Williams of Atlanta to deliver Aretha Franklin eulogy

Bankole Thompson

Jasper Williams Jr., pastor emeritus of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, who is regarded as a pastor among pastors and embodies the flaming tradition of the black church, will deliver the eulogy at the funeral of Aretha Franklin on Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.

Rev. Jasper Williams, pastor emeritus of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta.

The charismatic minister known for his masterful weaving of the teachings of the Bible with social issues was also the eulogist at the funeral of Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, when he died in 1984. His eulogy of Franklin, titled “A Good Soldier,” documented his many contributions to the civil rights movement.

“Rev. Jasper Williams is absolutely the right man at the right time. It is marvelous that he is giving the eulogy at Aretha’s funeral,” said former Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, who has been a longtime friend of Aretha Franklin.

“He was an ally and a close friend of Rev. Franklin. It is prophetic and profound that he is giving the eulogy at her funeral,” Watson said. “Aretha trusted him to eulogize her father, so how fitting that he has been selected to eulogize her.”

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Watson called Williams a standard bearer among the African-American clergy in the nation.

“He is held in great regard. In fact, he was the guest speaker at the last revival that Aretha presented at New Bethel Baptist Church,” Watson said. “At the revival there was a line of ministers from across the city seated at the front row to hear him preach.”

Five years ago, when Williams was celebrating 50 years as a towering figure in the black church, the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, one of the top lieutenants during the civil rights movement, hailed him as an important figure in the black experience.

“He is rare, and I am thankful that the African-American ministry has such a man as him. Rev. Jasper Williams is one of the most important and influential men when it comes to religious and church life, and he has been for quite some time,” Vivian said.  “His understanding of people and his understanding of ministry and the creativity that he has shown makes him stand out. People seek him because they see his wisdom as well as his preaching ability.”

Like Franklin, Williams was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in a Christian family environment. He later graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where he majored in sociology and minored in religion.

Williams, 75, also is known for a celebrated style of preaching in the black church called “whooping,” which dates back to slavery. It is a call and response type of sermon where the minister chants or reads syllables and the congregation responds as the organist plays the chords.

“The Franklin family could not have chosen a more wonderful person than Rev. Williams. He has been friends with the family down through the years,” said Fannie Tyler, who was Aretha Franklin’s executive assistant. “He is an excellent preacher. He has the experience, and he preaches from the Bible. He is the ideal person to give the eulogy.”

Detroit’s own the Rev. Lawrence T. Foster, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, who also graduated from Morehouse College and was mentored by King’s father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., at Ebenezer Baptist Church, agreed.    

“Jasper Williams has earned the respect of Aretha’s father and has endured the test of time,” Foster said. “He comes out of the C.L. Franklin tradition, and he represents the quintessential call and response preacher in America today.”

With Williams as the eulogist, Foster said, the funeral will be a significant introduction to the African-American religious tradition.  

“He represents the best in the African-American spiritual experience,” Foster said. “He has music in his voice when he preaches. He is intellectual and rhythmic. When he switches gears in the middle of his sermon, people hear a melody. This is as ancient as the tradition of our ancestors. He embodies all of that. The funeral is going to be a remarkable experience.”

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