Obamas don't attend Aretha Franklin's funeral, but call her 'one of a kind'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Former U.S. President Barack Obama

Washington — Barack and Michelle Obama did not attend the Friday funeral of Aretha Franklin in Detroit, but called her "one of a kind" in a statement read by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“From a young age, Aretha Franklin rocked the world of anyone who had the pleasure of hearing her voice," the former president and first lady said in a message delivered on stage at Greater Grace Temple.

"Whether bringing people together through thrilling intersections of genres or advancing important causes through the power of song, Aretha’s work reflected the very best of the American story. In all of its hope and heart, its boldness and its unmistakable beauty.

As artist and citizen, the Obamas said, "Aretha embodied those most revered virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation, while the music she made captured some of our deepest human desires, namely affection and respect.

"And through her own voice, Aretha lifted those of millions, empowering and inspiring the vulnerable, the downtrodden and everyone who may have just needed a little love.”

Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul

They called Franklin "one of a kind."


"Unfortunately, President and Mrs. Obama will not be able to attend Aretha Franklin’s services on Friday, but they have sent a letter, which the Rev. Al Sharpton will be reading during the service," spokeswoman Katie Hill said. 

Hill did not identify a conflict, but Obama is scheduled to deliver one of the eulogies for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, on Saturday morning at the National Cathedral in Washington.  

McCain had called Obama back in April to ask him the favor, according to CNN. Obama defeated McCain  in the 2008 presidential election after a bitter campaign.

Former President Bill Clinton will speak at Franklin’s funeral Friday at the Greater Grace Temple, according to her publicist. Franklin died Aug. 16 at age 76. The cause was pancreatic cancer. 

Franklin, a political buff, sang at both of Clinton’s inaugural celebrations and at Obama's first inauguration in 2009. She famously brought Obama to tears when she sang "Natural Woman" at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors concert. 

Upon Franklin's passing, the Obamas issued a statement saying, "(t)hrough her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience."

"In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect," the Obamas said. 

"She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human.  And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance."

Other political figures expected to speak at the Friday service include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Sharpton.

The homegoing service is set for 10 a.m. Friday.  

FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2011 file photo, Aretha Franklin sings before President Barack Obama speaks during the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.  Franklin died Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 at her home in Detroit.  She was 76. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

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