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Detroit Says Final Farewell To The "Queen" Aretha Franklin

On Friday, an all-star list of musicians, politicians, friends and family will remember music legend Aretha Franklin. The 76-year-old passed away last week from pancreatic cancer, silencing a music career that lasted more than a half-century. WKAR’s Reginald Hardwick spent yesterday at two Detroit locations that meant a lot to Franklin.

Aretha Franklin viewing
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media
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WKAR Public Media
Lines form along Linwood Street on August 30, 2018 for public viewing of Aretha Frankling at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

On Thursday, Linwood Street may have been the busiest street in Detroit. Aretha Franklin’s music blared from boom boxes. Vendors sold t-shirts with images of the songstress. And on this steamy August day,  generators hooked up to fans helped cool down a mile-long line of people slowly making their way to the New Bethel Baptist Church. The last public viewing of Franklin was in the same pulpit where she sang publicly for the first time at age 9.

Aretha Franklin viewing
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WKAR Public Media
Lilar Hays of The Bronx, New York City drove to Detroit for Aretha Franklin's viewing.

Lilar Hays drove from The Bronx in New York City for the viewing. Hays said her mother sang with Aretha at a Virginia church. She holds up a t-shirt showing the Queen of Soul behind the wheel of a pink Cadillac and the letters R-E-S-P-E-C-T  above.

"This is what that lady brought to us – respect – because we as women that’s what we need," said Hays. "We have a lot of people that don’t respect us but she made them to respect us. And I love her and I’m going to miss her."

John and Joyce Herzig
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WKAR Public Media
John and Joyce Herzig from Ohio traveled to Detroit for Aretha Franklin's public viewings.

Joyce and John Herzig flew in from Ohio for this final farewell.

"I’ve always followed her, I just loved her music and so we wanted to come over and help celebrate her life," said John Herzig. "She just inspired everybody – she was a great lady," said Joyce Herzig.

Sakia Nixon, like Franklin, grew up in Detroit.

Sakai Nixon, Yolanda Crosby
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WKAR Public Media
Sakai Nixon and her mother Yolanda Crosby waiting to view Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit

"She represents everything powerful, everything womanhood, everything that’s strong," said Nixon. "We were raised on her music. That was our cleanup music!"

At noon, as the line filed into the church, Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of the speakers at Friday’s funeral service arrived. He told reporters about Aretha Franklin holding an 11-city concert tour to raise money for Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

“Her sense of sacrifice and grace and service is as meaningful to me as her singing,” said Rev. Jackson.

Minutes later, the first visitors make their way out of the church. I talked with Gloria Leigh of Highland Park.

"Today she looked like she had on a long, gold sparkling outfit and the shoes and from head to toe," said Leigh. "And her hair was out of sight. She looked absolutely gorgeous!"

Debra White-Hunt
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WKAR Public Media
Detroit Windsor Dance Academy artistic director Debra White-Hunt.

About a mile away from the crowds on Linwood Street, there is quiet reflection inside the Detroit Windsor Dance Academy.

"Our relationship goes back to the 80’s when we first choreographed for her," said artistic director Debra White-Hunt. "We had auditions in our studio. She talked to me about things she wanted to see in her dancers."

White-Hunt said tapping local talent was important to Franklin.

"It’s like artistry meets artistry and she appreciated that and I’ll never forget that ever," said White-Hunt.

Amber Nahimana Aponi
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media
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WKAR Public Media
Amber Nahimana Aponi danced onstage at an Aretha Franklin concert in 2014.

Academy instructor Amber Nahimana Aponi performed as a dancer onstage with Franklin in 2014.

"I just saw the humanity in her," said Aponi. "Because she was an artist, an artist from Detroit. You could just sense that right way."

From a dance studio in New Center to streetside outside the New Bethel Baptist Church... you can feel the appreciation for Aretha Franklin, her music and her love for Detroit.

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