President Bill Clinton eulogized Aretha Franklin on Friday in an epic memorial service for the iconic soul singer, saying he was an “Aretha groupie” and playing her classic “Think!” into the microphone via his iPhone.
“She lived with courage — not without fear, but overcoming her fears,” Clinton said during his remarks at Detroit’s packed Greater Grace Temple. “She lived with faith — not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power — not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses. I just love her.”
The service for Franklin, who died August 16 at age 76, is still going on after its 10 AM ET start. The event has drawn attendees worthy of an A-list Grammy party, with Bill and Hillary Clinton joined by the likes of Gladys Knight, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Ariana Grande, Chaka Kahn, Faith Hill, Angie Stone, Ron Isley, Fantasia and Martha Reeves.
Among the performances, Grande sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which she had belted out two weeks ago in tribute on The Tonight Show; that performance caught the attention of Franklin’s family, who invited her to the service in Franklin’s hometown, which has hosted a week of tributes, memorials and concerts.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Friday during his eulogy that the city’s Chene Park will be renamed Aretha Franklin Park; that was the venue for Thursday’s free tribute concert that featured gospal and R&B performances by the likes of Knight and Dee Dee Bridgewater. A part of a street also has been renamed Aretha Franklin Way.
Hollywood notables in attendance included Whoopi Goldberg, Tyler Perry and Cicely Tyson, along with Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Shaprton, T.D. Jakes, Louis Farrakhan, California Rep. Maxine Waters, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and even Omarosa Manigault Newman.
Barack Obama and George W. Bush did not attend but sent letters; both are expected at Sen. John McCain’s funeral service tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
“Aretha truly was one of a kind,” Obama wrote in part in his letter, read onstage by Sharpton. “And as you pay tribute, know we’ll be saying a little prayer for you. And we’ll be thinking of all of Aretha’s loved ones in the days and weeks to come.”
Sharpton’s remarks included some choice words for President Donald Trump, who did not attend the service. Noting Trump’s remarks after Franklin’s death that “she worked for me on many occasions,” for which POTUS was criticized. “No, she used to perform for you — she worked for us,” Sharpton said. “Aretha never took orders from nobody but God.”