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Fans line up, show R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin at the Wright Museum

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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DETROIT — Hundreds of fans, from metro Detroit and beyond, lined up to pay their R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the late Aretha Franklin on Tuesday, Aug. 28, during the first of a four-day celebration of the Queen of Soul's life and career.

Franklin lay in state in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History's Rotunda, dressed in a ruby red gown with matching shoes and fingernail polish, her legs crossed at the ankles. Her casket was plated in 24-kt gold, with a glittery gold sash behind her. Arrangements of roses and orchids were circled behind her.

The line to view Franklin wound nearly around the museum as doors opened at 9 a.m., but grew shorter as mourners were ushered past in brisk, efficient fashion. The solemn and silent atmosphere inside contrasted the celebration outside. Fans, museum staffers handing out free water and even Detroit police officers ignored the oppressive heat and humidity to sing Franklin songs and dance along to the mix blasted by a local radio station — hitting a particularly exuberant peak when "Rock Steady" segued into "Respect" and then "Jump To It."

"We're all here loving every minute of it," Cathy Nava of Lake Orion said as she shielded herself from the sun with an umbrella. "She was somebody who crossed over to all generations, all walks of life, all people."

After viewing Franklin’s body, Canovia Sharpton, cousin of the Rev. Al Sharpton, said that, "It's solemn but we're happy because we're saying goodbye to a queen. It was very touching."

A clearly moved Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime Franklin friend who visited the week of her death, dropped by the museum on Tuesday as well, declaring it "a day of...Aretha music. It's so hard to see her go."

Franklin, who had homes in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, died on Aug. 16 at age 76 from pancreatic cancer. She leaves an iconic, award-winning legacy of music and activism, providing a soundtrack to the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements, along with a wealth of indelible and enduring hits.

Tuesday's visitation brought media from around the world, which camped at the museum's southwest corner to film the proceedings. Early arrival Diego Diaz came from Florida because "I love her to death," and led fellow fans in singing a bit of her 1985 hit "Freeway of Love," changing the song's "pink Cadillac" to a black one.

A real pink Cadillac Sedan de Ville sat outside the museum, next to the same vintage La Salle funeral home hearse that also carried Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Temptations singer David Ruffin and civil rights hero Rosa Parks. Nearby merchants hawked unauthorized memorial magazines, CDs, posters and T-shirts.

Ouida Winston drove five hours from Louisville, Ky., to pay her respects and planned to visit the Franklin family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery before heading home. "She looked so beautiful," Winston said outside the museum. "She looked well. She looked as if she was ready to perform."

Marvin Lewis of Detroit added that he came to the museum because "she's a legend."

"A life well-lived, a life well-sung," he said. "She connected the world with her voice. She reached across and touched everyone. She was a very honest and real person."

Franklin's body will remain at the Wright Museum through Wednesday, Aug. 29, then move to the New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father C.L. Franklin was the pastor and where Franklin did some of her earliest singing. There will be a more limited visitation on Thursday, Aug. 30, followed by an all-star memorial concert Thursday night at Detroit's Chene Park Amphitheatre, while Franklin's funeral will be Friday, Aug. 31, at the Greater Grace Temple in northwest Detroit, limited to friends, family and invited guests.

The Wright Museum also announced a new Franklin exhibition, "Think," will open there on Sept. 21 and run through Jan. 21.

Information about the Wright visitation can be found at bit.ly/2OMcb15

Web Site: bit.ly/2OMcb15

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