Franklin's funeral a time to 'come together'

For those who couldn't get into the church a Sonoco gas station down the street became an impromptu temple. They were gathered  around a screen projecting the funeral live, singing with pride along with the choir and cheering on preachers.

Dozens of Aretha Franklin fans waited outside all day at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit for a chance to watch her casket being carried away to its final resting place. 

The onlookers mingled with the attendees as they spilled out of the church into the sunlight street Friday evening.

Cradling a service booklet with her black blazer, Kina Houston was still buoyed from the experience honoring Franklin’s life alongside thousands of fans.

“It was history in the making,” the Detroiter said. “It was beautiful. A lot of emotions and storytelling. It made you proud of being in Detroit. A lot of people showed love for her, and that’s from her showing love to Detroit.”

Another person showing that love was Evelyn Green, Franklin’s former background singer for about five years. Now an educator in Detroit, she cherishes the memories of singing with the legendary entertainer in front of adoring audiences around the world.

“It was very important for me to give my respect,” Green said while leaving the funeral. “I know how precious it was for her to select me. I could never forget the experiences she created. It was a magnificent journey.”

Also in the pews was Tamara Winfrey-Harris of Indianapolis, who attended the service with a friend. She rejoiced in Franklin’s grandchildren sharing stories that “gave a picture of her as a human being” as well as dignitaries underscoring the singer’s significance.

“It was a celebration of a life well-lived,” she said as Franklin song blared on a stereo outside the church. “It was an historic moment and I’m glad I got a chance to be here to send her off.”

Scores of residents remained at the venue long after the service ended, snapping photos of a police motorcade and hoping to glimpse Franklin’s hearse or celebrities amid the departing SUVs.

A woman holds flowers in tribute to Aretha Franklin outside Greater Grace Temple.

Tammy Fears, who lives near Greater Grace, spent hours watching the scene with her 6-year-old daughter, Chloe. Wearing a button with Aretha’s face, the Detroit resident was eager to join the sea of fans and show her support.

“Aretha Franklin is a legend,” she said. “No one can top her. She is definitely the queen.”

Local ministers Vicki Byrd, president of Our Father’s Children International, and Pastor Kathaleen Wuopio of Living through Him Ministries in Ferndale, were among those who left early from the eight-plus hour celebration. 

“It was a wonderful tribute,” Wuopio said as they walked out of the church in the afternoon. “I think it’s so important for people to come together nowadays.”

“The whole entire thing was joyful except for the family,” she said. “You feel the compassion and the loss when the granddaughter spoke, the grandson and the niece. You felt deep compassion for the loss of their grandmother and aunt. To them that’s who she was.”

“She was a woman of boldness,” added Byrd. “She had faith in what she was doing. She was well loved by family and many around the world. Even the president. Many had very good words to say concerning her.”

Including the public

From the moment Great Grace Temple announced it would be opening up 2,000 seats for the public, fans began to line up for a chance to get into the historic celebration of her life. 

From those turned away, about 100 gathered at the Sunoco gas station down the street to bring the church experience outside, watching on a screen projecting the livestream. They sang with pride along with the choir and cheered on the preachers. 

“I waited about three hours, but didn’t make it in and it’s disappointing, but I will join brothers and sisters at their homes to watch it,” said Sandra Johnson, 47. “She built the soundtrack of our lives and we’re so proud to be from Detroit like her.” 

Ericka Alexander, 48, said she has been on Seven Mile since 5 a.m. but didn’t plan on ever attending the funeral. 

“The atmosphere here today has just been extraordinary and I knew it would be,” said Alexander, smiling as she watched Judge Greg Mathis and the Clark Sisters on screen. “Just wanted to sit and enjoy this beautiful thing for Detroit today. Saying she will be missed is an understatement.” 

The crowds faced the heat, collectively repeating after the pastor “Farewell, Aretha Franklin. Thank you Lord for blessing us with her presence.”

“We can see how much love she got throughout the city and the whole world by the response of her funeral,” said Katrina Richardson, 42, from Detroit. 

Shortly before the doors opened at 9:30 a.m., those lined up began getting anxious and fighting their way to the front. Many pushed and ran once guards lifted the barrier from Seven Mile to the church. 

Detroit residents wait in line to enter the Greater Grace Temple for legendary singer Aretha Franklin's funeral in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. Franklin died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.

Attendees were told to dress appropriately and they obliged, impressing in full-length ball gowns, colorful hats and head-to-toe black for the somber occasion. 

Angela Frye, 58, was one of the first 100 public guests to enter at 9:45 a.m. She said she arrived onsite in her best church dress and hat at 3 a.m.  

“When I arrived the line wasn’t bad, looked like about 100 people ahead of me and some left,” said Frye, from Inkster. “It’s such a sad occasion but it feels great to be here. ‘Gotta Find Me An Angel’ is my favorite song and got me through some hard times.” 

After the funeral, Franklin's casket was interred in a mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Franklin’s loved ones arrived at the cemetery after a 10-mile processional through her hometown.

Woodlawn is also home to the graves of Franklin’s father, two more of his daughters, and civil rights luminary Rosa Parks.

The interment ends the formal mourning for Franklin, who was dressed in four different outfits for open-casket viewings in the days leading up to the funeral.

She was buried in a gold dress and sparkling pumps.

The Associated Press contributed.