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Remembering The Queen Of Soul In Detroit


Senator John McCain is lying in state today at the Rotunda at the United States Capitol. Vice President Pence, members of the military, the House and the Senate, all of which he served, are there. In Detroit today, Aretha Franklin is getting her final send-off in the vintage white Cadillac hearse that once carried civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Fans have been celebrating Aretha Franklin all this past week in her hometown, and that included a big memorial concert last night.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) 'Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel...

INSKEEP: Her funeral is today, and NPR's Debbie Elliott is covering that from Detroit. Hi, Debbie.


INSKEEP: What's it been like so far?

ELLIOTT: Well, I am outside Greater Grace Temple. I'm set up on the front lawn watching people. There are still people standing, trying to get in the door here. It was invitation-only so once all of the invited guests were seated, they let some of the general public in. And it was a very exciting moment. People had been here since before 7 o'clock this morning hoping they could get in. They had to have a white wristband. And the ushers said, OK, you can come in. Just listen a bit to the scene as people found out they were going to get an opportunity to be at this funeral.


JANIS WALKER: I'm going in to see our queen...


WALKER: ...Blessed and highly favored.

UNIDENTIFIED USHER: Got a wristband?

ELLIOTT: Now, that's Janis Walker (ph). She says, I'm going in to see our queen. I'm feeling blessed and highly favored. So this is a really important moment for Detroit.

INSKEEP: A sad moment, but a moment of celebration. And what kinds of things are people saying there?

ELLIOTT: Well, you know, it's a special moment for Detroit, certainly. They claim her as their own and have a lot to say about how she always stayed in Detroit. Whereas other celebrities may have gotten famous or gained fame and left, she stayed and she was important to the city. She's also got a constituency, if you will, you know, in the music industry. There are politicians who were talking about her. And there were civil rights figures talking about what she meant to the movement. The Reverend William Barber, who was co-leader of the Poor People's Campaign, is one of the people who is going to speak about Aretha Franklin at the service today. As he was coming in, he talked a little bit about her legacy and said, you know, she was able to make songs, he said, from the cries of the people, capturing both the joy and the pain. Here's what he said.


WILLIAM BARBER: When Aretha sang, whether it was in the club or in the church, it was sacred. It was kind of a mixing of the secular and the spiritual. It was holy. But it also not only made you want to dance, it made you want to do something, made you want to fight injustice, made you want to stand up. And ultimately, it made you want to say that respect is non-negotiable.

ELLIOTT: Steve, there, of course, a nod to her anthem, "Respect."

INSKEEP: Yeah. Absolutely. Five hours of a funeral service today. Is that right?

ELLIOTT: That's what they're expecting. It was supposed to start about an hour and a half ago. It did not. It was a little running behind. The family has just been seated. Things are just getting going. A lot of people on tap to speak and sing and perform. President Bill Clinton will be making remarks. The Reverend Jesse Jackson will. Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, among the performers. Some gospel tributes from Shirley Caesar and the Clark Sisters and Faith Hill on tap. So certainly, an important day of remembering Aretha Franklin.

INSKEEP: Debbie, thanks very much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.