Mourners streamed in for a second day Wednesday to pay their respects to Aretha Franklin, who was dressed in a different outfit for her final public viewing, as if making a costume change during a show.
Fans waited festively outside, then walked in a solemn, single-file line into the rotunda of Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. There, they found Franklin in a polished bronze casket and a sheer baby blue dress with matching shoes, a change from the bright red outfit seen Tuesday across the world. On the inside of the lid, embroidered into the fabric, read “Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul.”
The two-day viewing was part of a week of commemorations for the legend, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer. She was 76. A marathon funeral with an all-star list of speakers and performers was scheduled for Friday.
Just as Franklin’s more than six decades of music wrought emotions out of her fans, so too did her viewing.
As they approached the casket and heaping displays of roses, many people smiled, cried, crossed themselves, bowed their heads or blew kisses. The strains of Franklin’s gospel recordings echoed in the airy space.
“I was pushed by … but a tear still came,” said Maggie Penn, 78, of Detroit. The retired counselor, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Franklin and crossed paths with her in the pre-fame years, said she always appreciated that the singer remained rooted.
“She never forgot from which she came,” Penn said.
Gina Moorman attended Tuesday night’s sorority ceremony staged in Franklin’s honor at the museum and returned Wednesday.
“I wasn’t even going to do it, but I wanted to see her again,” said Moorman, 57, as she waited with hundreds of others in a line that snaked around to the back of the museum and beyond. “It’s a real blessing to see her.”
Peggie Funny and her friend Mary A. Wilson, of Columbia, South Carolina, both born in 1954, came to Detroit for one day only on a whim because they wanted to pay their respects. They were standing outside the museum taking video and sharing it with friends on social media.
“During the ’70s, anything she made during that time, we were just dancing to and enjoying it,” Funny said.
Seeing Franklin in her casket rendered Wilson speechless. “I felt very emotional going in, very emotional,” she said. “I just wanted to stand there. I froze.”
They were both impressed that Franklin had on a different outfit.
Delana Kidd said she woke up Wednesday and knew she had to go to the museum.
“Today was my day off, so I said, ‘You’ve got to come,’” Kidd said. Kidd met Franklin at a store where she worked about 10 years ago, and the encounter made her a “forever fan,” she said.
She said the singer looked beautiful while lying in repose: “I don’t know about red yesterday. I didn’t see it, but … she just looked gorgeous, peaceful,” Kidd said.
Lauren Mills, 74, said her late husband proposed to her at a Detroit-area Franklin concert in 1977. She’s not sure what overcame him, since they had seen Franklin perform many times before, but “I guess it was something special,” she said.
“It was just something about her voice that calmed you — whatever you were going through,” said Mills, who attended Tuesday night’s ceremony. “Seeing her, I would say she was saying, ‘I’ve done my duty. I’m OK — I’m going to rest now,’” Mills said.
Herman Phillips, another fan who spent time at the viewing Wednesday, shared his own personal connection to Franklin.
“I feel that I’m a privileged one because I sang in a choir with Aretha when I joined her father’s church, in a young adult choir,” Phillips said. “I sang with her, not often because she was on the road a lot, but I do say I have that privilege. I was able to sing with Aretha at one time.”
Moorman didn’t know Franklin personally, but that didn’t seem to matter. The music, she said, drew her in as it conveyed joy, pain and all things in between.
“She was intertwined in all of our lives,” she said, adding that her love for the singer “started with ’Respect.’” “We’re just feeling good about seeing the Queen.”