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Detroit — Soon after the doors closed Tuesday for the first public viewing for Aretha Franklin, more than 700 mourners gathered to offer another farewell.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members hosted a memorial service at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to commemorate the singer. 

Franklin was initiated as an honorary member of the sorority on June 5, 1992, in New York City, group officials said.

To the sisterhood and others who crossed paths with the iconic singer, her long career and widespread influence across music and civil rights were touchstones and examples for them to follow.

“She demanded respect as a woman in America,” U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence told the hundreds gathered for the ceremony. “… What a message and example she showed.”

The gathering was an "Omega Omega" tribute, or funerary event held to commemorate the life of deceased members. It's a rite of passage among the few that the sorority opens to the public, said Beverly Smith, Delta Sigma Theta’s national president. “It allows us to share our members with someone else. It’s a very special thing.”

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Delta Sigma Theta sisters honor Aretha Franklin Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

 

As an honorary member, Franklin had showcased the group locally. In 1996, she helped the sisterhood raise money during a Detroit alumnae chapter event she hosted, The Detroit News reported at the time.

In turn, sorority sisters turned out at her performances. Their trademark red often was visible in the audience, Smith said.

“She provided a voice for black pride," Smith said. "She was one who provided service in her community. She tried to make sure that she supported those that she respected and needed that support so they knew she was in their corner. Those are attributes that are important to us. She was truly special.”

Founded in 1913 at Howard University, the group has more than 200,000 initiated members as well as 1,000 collegiate and alumnae chapters in the United States and internationally.

During the tribute, many members from across the country wore black dresses as they arrived to the sound of the entertainer’s iconic voice echoing throughout the museum rotunda.

An embroidered white cloth was brought toward the casket before some sisters clad in white and red robes stood in front to read spiritual passages.

While standing in the row near a floral bouquet, Lawrence recalled how Franklin was an avid reader and political observer who reached out after her election as Southfield’s first female African-American mayor.

And though she was known as a “national treasure,” Franklin remained proud of her city roots, Lawrence said. “She was a Detroit girl.”

 

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