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The World Says Goodbye To Aretha Franklin, The 'Queen Of Soul'


The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, has gotten quite a sendoff today more than two weeks after she died at the age of 76. She was remembered during a star-studded funeral in her hometown of Detroit, a funeral that lasted about seven hours.


STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) As around the sun the Earth knows she's revolving and the rosebuds know to bloom in early May, just as hate knows love's the cure, you can rest your mind assured that I'll be loving you always.

SHAPIRO: That's Stevie Wonder of course singing his tribute near the end of the service. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Detroit and joins us now. Hi, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Wouldn't it be nice if Stevie Wonder could sing at our funerals?

SHAPIRO: I hope he serenades me someday dead or alive. Well, what was this like? Stevie Wonder, who would be...


SHAPIRO: ...The marquee headline performer of any other event was just one of many at this one.

ELLIOTT: Oh, it was just an outpouring of love and personal tributes, musical tributes, a who's who really. There were politicians. There were entertainers. There were megapreachers. There were a lot of activists from the civil rights movement - all of these orbits where Aretha Franklin made a mark during her remarkable life. You know, former Attorney General Eric Holder was here. He called her otherworldly and his queen. President Bill Clinton talked about how he and his wife, Hillary, were groupies of Aretha's when they first got out of college and how much of an impact she had had on their lives. And he talked about Aretha Franklin's courage, her faith, her power. Here's what he said.


BILL CLINTON: The secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and this perfect culture that raised her and decided to be the composer of her own life song.

ELLIOTT: Everybody here talked about how Aretha was untouchable, like, not just a voice for a generation but a voice for all time.

SHAPIRO: You point out that while of course everybody loved Aretha Franklin's music, her legacy is so much broader and deeper than that. What were some of the ways in which people discussed that and remembered her today?

ELLIOTT: Well, one thing that really stood out was Detroit, right? She's Detroit. And Detroit politicians got up and talked about how much she meant to the city and all of the things that she's been doing in the city that really nobody knew about. And all this week, fans have been talking about that. You know, other celebrities might leave; Aretha stayed, and that really mattered. And then there were these beautiful personal stories like the music producer Clive Davis, who talked about her friendship and said that she, quote, "defined loyalty." And then there were several of the icons of the civil rights movement - right? - Jesse Jackson talking about their relationship and how important she was during the movement, the reverend Al Sharpton also talking about that. Here's what he said.


AL SHARPTON: She was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement.

ELLIOTT: So the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. And that was something that people echoed all this week when they were coming to pay their tributes here. You know, they remembered her back in the days of segregation. They remembered her singing at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral. And they remembered her singing at Barack Obama's inauguration...


ELLIOTT: ...Singing "My Country, 'Tis Of Thee." And those were really important moments in this country's history.


ELLIOTT: So people here really felt like they were being a part of history.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Detroit, where Aretha Franklin's funeral was held today. Thanks, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. 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.