Monday, July 15, 2024

Aretha’s Spectactular 48 Hour Send Off Included a Gladys Knight Brouhaha and A Pastor Who Loses His Mind


Aretha Franklin’s family and friends designed a 48 hour send off so spectacular that the city wound up naming a park for her.

The Friday funeral– lasting seven hours– was broadcast so many people got see the incredible performances and the fiery speeches.

The latter included an Atlanta pastor selected to give the eulogy– although god only knows that by the time Rev. Jasper William Jr. got to speak there had been several eulogies. Williams completely offended the crowd of 4,000 invited guests by declaring “black lives don’t matter.” Then he launched a tirade against Aretha’s father, the late Rev C.L. Franklin, that was inappropriate, out of place, uncalled for, and frankly, crazy.

If there had been an actual hook, many in the audience would have used it. To be sure, Williams won’t be invited to preach again in Detroit any time soon.

Then there was Ariana Grande’s hideous rendition of “Natural Woman.” I guess she was chosen because she’d performed it on the Tonight show. But Grande screeched and howled, was off key, and wore a short, short dress totally inappropriate for a funeral. Her whole contribution was a hot mess.

But so many great people offset Ariana’s ridiculousness. Gladys Knight made a surprise appearance at the end of the funeral. She was not on the schedule, but had been on the one for the prior night at an outdoor show at Chene Park. She simply didn’t show at Chene, then arrived at the funeral and told local press that she and Aretha had cancer in common. This led the reporter she spoke to report that Gladys has pancreatic cancer. So, during Aretha’s funeral, this story took off like…cancer.

From Greater Grace Temple I contacted Gladys’s husband, William McDowell, who told me she does not have pancreatic cancer. She once had breast cancer, and was trying to make a comparison. Oy vey. Also, she hadn’t shown the previous night performing at the US Open for Serena Williams and Emirates Airlines. Ironic, since Aretha loved the US Open and tennis in general. But there you go.

Anyway, in the 7th hour of the marathon funeral, Gladys showed up and sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and was just sensational. She pretty much stole a “show” that had already boasted amazing performances by Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, and Shirley Caesar. It was announced that Chene Park, the venue of Thursday night’s 5 hour show that included Jean Carne, Sarah Dash, Johnny Gill, the Four Tops, and a dance piece by famed choreographer George Faison, was going to be officially renamed Aretha Franklin Park.

Meantime, there were the expected dramatic and fierce speeches from Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson. There was also an unexpected one from Michael Eric Dyson, who attacked Donald Trump alliteratively and was preceded by Rev. Al Sharpton coming after Trump, too. Aretha would have loved that.

Detroit was lit up pink for Aretha’s farewell. There were dozens of pink Cadillacs lining Seven Mile Rd in front of the church, a reference to the pink Cadillac from “Freeway of Love.” Cadillac responded by taking out full page ads — all pink– in newspapers. Many Detroit skyscrapers posted pink lighting on Thursday and Friday. I’m not even sure Aretha really liked pink so much, but the effort was a nice one.

Thousands of Detroiters lined up for Aretha’s public viewing, which has already been described vividly in other places. Thousands more tried to get into the Chene Park concert, and also lined up for the funeral procession. The cars were parked five deep at the church. Did Aretha have any concept of her fame at this point? She’d been so sick for the last year, and fighting cancer in secret since the end of 2010, I don’t think she did. What a testament to her incredible talent, her presence, her importance to Detroit, on so many levels.

Next up in Detroit is a movement to get an Aretha Franklin museum built. It would be a tribute to her, to her famous musical family, and maybe honor non Motown Detroit music greats. I hope this comes together.

More on the performances, speeches, and Aretha’s send off later on Saturday…Meantime, shout outs to her niece, Sabrina Garrett-Owens, and her sister in law, Earline Franklin (widow of brother Cecil Franklin). As one guest observed, “They had two weeks, no experience, and basically staged the Oscars.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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