Return to Transcripts main page
The Funeral of Aretha Franklin. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 31, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And beautiful in their right. You have the late senator, John McCain, he is lying in state there. Members of the public having the precious opportunity to bid their own farewell to such a legend and hero in this country, a moment of bipartisan reverence and salute to his 60 years, 60 years of service to this country.
But, Aretha Franklin, a celebration of life fit for a queen. In her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Musical tributes from stars like Ariana Grande, Faith Hill and the legendary Clark Sisters. Poignant reflections from Franklin's family and music legend Smokey Robinson. I promise, I won't talk through all of it. Let's start with Ms. Franklin's funeral there in Detroit. Where Fredricka Whitfield is standing by. Ryan Young is there and Michaela Angela Davis is here with me in New York but Fredricka, let me begin with you. I have been watching you on and off all morning long. When I looked up, the Clark Sisters were performing, everyone on their feet. This is a total celebration where you are in Detroit.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: It is. It's a celebration. It is a happy moment. You know, I think the former attorney general put it so succinctly where he talked about, you know, there is happiness in this celebration. Yes, there is sadness because the queen of soul is gone. She lives forever through her music. He did a beautiful job of putting you on the journey of how she touched lives in so many ways through music and how she imbodied her music, how you felt her music and you heard from her grandchildren and her niece as well. Her grandchildren spoke so eloquently of not knowing how great she was. Yes, she was great, she was my grandmother. Then, following her death and how she touched people and what her music meant.
Hearing from little Victoria talking about I knew how special she was but didn't know how great. Her voice made you feel something. Her voice brought peace. I think that says it so beautifully. You have heard from people who have known her well, Smokey Robinson. He has his beautiful, spontaneous, it seemed, you know, song. Almost like a letter he was singing to her as he looked at that 24-carat gold plated casket with Aretha Franklin there and talked of how he is going to miss his friend. He told a story of how he was 8 years old, seeing the pastor of the church, the father of Aretha Franklin. He heard this music and voice to find out it was a 4-year-old Franklin who sounded like a woman singing. How the relationship blossomed over the years. They would sing together and collaborate. We are hearing stories like that. Very personal. Then you hear from people outside who feel like they knew Aretha Franklin because they followed her music for six decades now. She represents the heart of Detroit. We have heard that many times over from so many people. We are going to hear from the former president, Bill Clinton, he's been a great admirer of hers so long. He reached out to her to be a part of his inaugural celebration.
BALDWIN: We think we are moments away. Fred, thank you so much. Stand by for me. You can see over the senator's right shoulder, the former president, Bill Clinton. Letters have been written and passed on and read aloud from George W. Bush and from former president Barack Obama. Stand by for the former president there. Let's listen in to senator
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, (D), MICHIGAN: We have lost a legend. We can take comfort in the fact that Aretha's voice will always, always be with us in so many different ways. Aretha Franklin was the undisputed queen of soul and this city is and will always be her kingdom. God bless each and every one of you in the Franklin family. [applause]
BISHOP CHARLES ELLIS, GREATER GRACE TEMPLE, DETROIT: Please, everyone, stand to your feet. Shirley Chisholm made a run for presidency in the 1070s and 1984 and '88, Reverend Jesse ran and dubbed his theme, Run Jesse Run. Al Sharpton gave it a shot. We didn't see Barack Obama coming and we declared it would never happen. In 1992, someone from Hope, Arkansas, became president of the United States. We just dubbed him, at that time, the first black president of the United States. Please, the honorable William Jefferson, Bill Clinton. Dear god, praise for Lady Hillary Clinton is here as well.
[14:05:00] BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, bishop. Reverend Smith, Miss Ellis, members of Aretha's family, for giving Hillary and me a chance to show up and just say we started out not as a president and first lady, senator, secretary of state, we started out as like Aretha groupies or something. I mean, you know, she was only about 4 years older than me, five years older than Hillary, so when we are getting out of college is when she finally got her big breakthroughs. It's one thing I want to say to the people in the audience. She had the voice of a generation, maybe the voice of a century. She was born into a musical culture.
Yes, she sat on the steps and her home and listened to Art Tatum, maybe the latest jazz pianist ever live play. She also worked for years, I mean years spreading the church and the gospel music to the R & B Club, the JF Club, the places where soul was being born, the places where rock 'n roll was being played. When nobody was paying particular attention, I went back and read her autobiography the other day and I said, oh, my god. When she was making her way, she actually opened a jazz club for John Coltrane and he did a set after her. Why am I saying this? This woman got us all here in the seats today. All right? Not because she had this breathtaking talent, which she did. Not because she grew up in a princess' soul because of her father, her mother, her relatives, but because she lived with courage. Not without fear, but overcoming her fears.
She lived with faith, not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power, not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses. I just loved her. So, I started off as a groupie. And, then I said, oh, my god, this woman who has sung for America when Dr. King was killed. All these political conventions, including mine. At least president Obama and my inauguration ceremonies and various things. I even talked her into coming to the rose garden to sing for the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
[14:10:00] Thought it might loosen them up a little, it will be good. So, I figured out, I think, that the secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and perfect culture that raised her and decided to be the composer so, I figured out, I think, that the secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and perfect culture that raised her and decided to be the composer of her own life song. What a song it turned out to be. I want to say, I hope god will forgive me, but I was so glad when I got here, and I hope you will forgive me. When the casket was still open because I said, I wonder what my friend's got on today. [laughter]
I want to see what the girl is carrying out. One last thing, for all the wonderful things Aretha did for me, all the great events she appeared at, my most enduring memory of her was almost happenstance where I was there and what turned out to be the last public singing she ever did. At Elton John's aids benefit last year. In the cathedral of St. John, the Divine in Harlem. Just a couple blocks from my office. Elton John and I did a lot of work together on aids. I said, you know, Aretha's the talent, so I showed up a little early. I was like a grade school kid. Here I am, old gray-haired guy. Sure enough, she heard I was there and she summoned me back. And she's sitting there, I mean, obviously, desperately ill, she stood right up and said, how you doing, baby? I said I'm doing better now. And she said, she said, look at me. I finally got thin again. It took a lot of guts to say that. Then she went out into this setting and all these people who loved her and were awe struck said, can you believe she showed up? She sang not one song, not two songs, not three songs. She had them bring a chair out and she sang for 45 straight minutes. [applause]
That's what I want to say to the young people here. The people who may not know the names of the people who were influences on her. Literally awe struck reading her biography and how generous she was to call the names of dozens of gospel singers and musicians of our time, of soul singers that most people don't know. And to say they are under appreciated, she kept filling out her life. I'll never forget her. She stood up singing in that cathedral when she could.
[14:15:00] She went over and played one song on the piano to make sure none of us forgot she was real good at that. So, our friend, our family member, mother, aunt, whatever, she did as she dominated our ups and downs and joys and heart breaks when we started listening to her first on the radio. Might end up buying records. Then you have tapes. You had to have a tape deck. CDs and you had to have a CD player. Now you need to carry a little phone around. If you are as ancient as I am, it seems incredible, all the music in the world, right here. But, she did this great thing knowing she could not live long, and she even told the audience that day she had gotten a good medical report. I have no idea if it's true or not. It was after I left her, but I know one thing, she wanted them to sit back, relax, feel good and listen to her sing and not worry about how long she was going to live. Now, we are living in a time where a lot of the virtues I just described to you are not very much in fashion. She cared about broken people. She cared about people who were disappointed. She cared about people who didn't succeed as much as she did. She wrote about them in her book. I can tell you, I have had an editor, Aretha, leave these people's names out. Nobody knows who they are. I do. And if they don't know who they are, they should. So, this is what I think. You should remember in this time about this magnificent woman, she worked her can off to get where she was. She took the gift god gave her and she kept getting bigger every day.
ARETHA FRANKLIN, SOUL SINGER [recording]: So, you better think, think about what you're trying to do to me, let yourself be free, let's go back, lets' ---
BILL CLINTON: It's the key to freedom. God bless you, Aretha, we love you.
BISHOP ELLIS: The one and only, the president of the United States, President William Jefferson Clinton. At this time, Audrey Dubois Harris is going to bring us one of the hymns of the church. Following that, we are going to go to church with Pastor Shirley Caesar and Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and the Aretha Franklin Concert Choir.
BALDWIN: I promise you, we will not interrupt. We should listen to this.
[14:20:00] I promise you, we are going to come back in a minute Shirley Caesar and Chaka Khan take to the microphone, I promise.
But for now, I get to sit next to Michaela Angela Davis was with me as we were sitting there listening to President Clinton and this mike drop at the end of that and hearing a little bit of Aretha on his iPhone and how he said, started out as a groupie, then tells the story of how he had Aretha Franklin at the rose we are sitting, listening to president Clinton and this mike drop at the end of that and hearing a little bit of Aretha on his iPhone and how he said, started out as a groupie, then tells the story of how he had Aretha Franklin at the rose garden, when he had the Emperor and Empress of Japan to loosen them up. It was when he said she has sung for America. You turned to me and said, you know what, as remindful of this service and that in Washington of the late Senator John McCain. These are two patriots.
MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL WRITER: Yes. And I think today was two portraits in patriotism and how they identify it and the difference of being a cultural patriot or military one. It is the tale of two giant lives. It's stunning to watch them at the same time. It's making us have a very interesting, complex situation, which is the American conversation. What's striking about Aretha Franklin's rituals and ceremony is that she really imbodied faith and works in a very particular way. She made you feel good, like dr. Feel good, took you to church, but also took you to reckon with civil rights. It's very, very powerful to stay in church but also in the streets.
BALDWIN: I was listening to an interview done with Don in the last couple years, talking the civil rights and respect was a mantra. She rode the bus, didn't fly. How when he was asking her, you were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, she shied away from saying yes, I carried the mantle.
DAVIS: With your work, she's a great American woman. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Respect was a mantra, too. That was really progressive. No woman was talking about being satisfied sexually and charged and bossed up at that time. You have the feeling Aretha Franklin was in charge of Aretha Franklin's life. That was the core of feminism.
BALDWIN: Where do you think she got that from?
DAVIS: A combination. I think president Clinton laid that out, the idea she was born in the church and civil rights, gives you this combination of Americanism and freedom. We are really supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. She was very brave. She's very brave. Again, this idea of her and senator McCain as true American heroes and patriots and she was literally an American, a great resource, you know, a treasure. And, he is a great American hero. So, these two lives let us look at who we are. And look at the best of who we are, even when we are complicated and we don't agree. There's certain things that strike us.
BALDWIN: I love listening, earlier, to her family members. Her grand kids were up there. It was her niece who was -- it was her niece.
DAVIS: It was her niece.
BALDWIN: I stopped everything I was doing and listened to her. This heartfelt thanks to everyone who bought, you know, her Aunty's albums and knew the words to her songs and just speaking about how she was her aunt.
[14:25:00] She spoke about this niece spoke about her son graduating from Howard and how other members are graduating from Howard, how important education is. Had it not been for her aunt Aretha.
DAVIS: Her niece reflected her realness. That's another thing. She's the queen. She's like auntie.
BALDWIN: Going through the grocery store.
DAVIS: Exactly. Exactly. And that, also, is very rare, how to be royal and authentic at the same time is difficult. There are divas and there are divas. She was -- but the diva that you could feel was real. It's very rare. I think that's part of what we are saying good-bye to, this authentic, rich, regular, extraordinary person.
BALDWIN: With that, let's go back to Detroit.
AUDREY DUBOIS HARRIS, SINGER: Great is thy faithfulness, lord unto me, great is thy faithfulness, hallelujah, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies, I see, oh, that I see lord your hand, lord your hand every day of my life, lord your hands in the morning great is thy faithfulness lord, great is thy faithfulness, oh, glory, great is thy faithfulness lord unto you, and you and you and me, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, great, great is his faithfulness, hallelujah [applause]
PASTOR SHIRLEY CAESAR, GOSPEL SINGER: Great is thy faithfulness. He has been faithful. Has he been faithful to anybody? Yes. I want you to say to this wonderful family, pretty much all of us sat where you are sitting. I can't speak about anybody else. Oh, yes. I can tell you that in spite of everything, he still is, oh, yes. I'm kind of like Aretha, I'm one of 13 children. 12 are gone and I'm still here. I'm going to say it to the family, to be absent from this house, is to be in the presence of the lord. All we can say is sleep on Aretha. That's nothing we can do to turn it around. I often wonder when I see people on their death bed and they breathe their last breath, I just have to believe that god grabs death --