Who's who of politicians, musicians, clergy bid farewell to Aretha

An emotional Smokey Robinson recalled the first time he met Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, visiting her house not long after she moved to Detroit with her father and he heard her singing as a child.

"I see you and you're there and you're singing," recalled Robinson, speaking directly to Aretha's gold casket, surrounded by massive arrangements of roses, during her funeral Friday. "It was my very first sight of you."

Robinson was one of dozens of Motown stars, Detroit celebrities, musicians and activists from around the world who came to the service at Greater Grace Temple to say farewell to the iconic singer and pay tribute to everything she achieved as a performer and activist.

Every one of them had had a personal relationship with the music icon, forcing them to put aside their grief to give her a fitting sendoff. 

"The world is celebrating you," said Robinson. "And the world is going to miss you. And I know I'm going to miss you — and all our talks."

Smokey Robinson (right) hugs Bishop Charles H. Ellis III during Aretha Franklin's memorial service.

Friday's guest list was a who's who from nearly every profession. Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among the highest level politicians there, but there also religious leaders and others who thanked Aretha for her legacy.

Other Motown celebrities at the service included rapper Big Sean, Gladys Knight, Duke Fakir of the Four Tops  and Cal Streets and Bertha McNeal of the Velvelettes. Actress and TV host Whoopi Goldberg and actor and director Tyler Perry also attended, sitting in the front row. Actress Cicely Tyson sat with Perry and Hillary Clinton in the front row, wearing a massive black hat that Twitter followers loved.

Backstage, Perry remarked on how Franklin was a fan of his iconic character "Madea" and how happy that made him.

"To hear that music and have it be part of the soundtrack of my life is amazing," said Perry. "It was also amazing to hear her say: 'Hey, I love what you do’ and have her love Madea.' It's been really, really incredible."

Another performer who couldn't stop praising the Queen of Soul effusively was  singer and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.

"She was the queen, she still is the queen and I’m so glad we got to be here to just honor her," Hudson said. "Amazing legacy that will never be forgotten. Ever.”

Singer and "American Idol" 2004 winner Fantasia Barrino-Taylor also agreed that Franklin was "everything."

"Aretha is music," she said. "I was five years old when I started listening to Aretha Franklin."

Judge Greg Mathis of Detroit's 36th District Court shared several anecdotes about his friendship with Aretha, calling her "Sister Ree."

He recalled how he and his wife were with the legendary soul singer in Washington, D.C. for an event together. She wanted to go out to eat at the Four Seasons but changed her mind and they instead walked a half-mile to the diner Johnny Rockets. He said she always wanted to show folks her strength.

"She was walking with the strength of a lioness," he said.

Rev. Al Sharpton (from left), Rev. Jesse Jackson, and President Bill Clinton speak to one another at the Aretha Franklin's funeral service at Greater Grace Temple on Friday, August 31, 2018.

More than five members of Congress also were at the service, including U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow; U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Debbie Dingell of Michigan; U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

Bill Clinton said he and Hillary have been Aretha fans since college. He said Aretha "lived with courage – not without fear."

The secret of her greatness was "she decided to be the composer of her own life song – and what a song it turned out to be," Clinton said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of several religious leaders who sat on the stage during Friday's service, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and activist Louis Farrakhan. Jackson said he prayed with Franklin before she died and called Friday "very emotional." 

"It’s very sad,” said Jackson. “On one hand, there’s a legacy of music and then there’s a legacy of service.”

The crowd erupted in cheers Friday when Sharpton took aim at President Donald Trump for comments he made about Franklin having worked for him in the past.

"Aretha took orders from nobody but God," said Sharpton.

Judge Greg Mathis arrive for the funeral.

Mathis, meanwhile, recalled one of his final conversations with Aretha. The two were talking about the Flint water crisis and that bottled water was no longer being given to residents. Mathis lamented what could we do about it because critics said he should sit down and focus on his own career.

"She said, 'What, are you scared? You’re supposed to be from Detroit! What you scared of?'" Mathis remembered. "She said 'Yeah, Greg. You go back up there and sock it to ‘em!'"

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Managing Editor Felecia Henderson and Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed. The Associated Press contributed.