(Reprinted from Detroit Free Press, August 31, 2018)
It could have been a family reunion in LaSalle Gardens, the neighborhood where Aretha Franklin grew up.
Neighbors, friends, politicians, preachers and strangers trading stories, telling jokes, reminiscing about old times.
But then Smokey Robinson walks up to a pulpit mic at Greater Grace Temple and talks about being 8 years old, hanging with the boys and going over to the new kid’s house. His name is Cecil, and he has a sister named Aretha, who sings like an angel.
Suddenly, Robinson looks down at the coffin holding Aretha Franklin, the little girl who grew from the daughter of a preacher into a music and civil rights icon. And the room fades away.
“I hear music, the piano being played and this voice that sounds like a little girl singing and I go into the room and I see you, and you’re there, and you’re singing and it was my first meeting you, my first sight of you. And from that moment on, almost, we have been so, so close and so tight. I didn’t know especially this soon that I was going to be having to say goodbye to you, farewell …”
And the dam broke.
All the pent-up emotion, all the not believing that it could be true — even after seeing her at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday and Wednesday and at New Bethel Baptist Church Thursday and Greater Grace on Friday, a four-day engagement that would be her last — ended in that single farewell.
Aretha Franklin is gone.