Aretha Franklin comes home to New Bethel Baptist Church
New Bethel Baptist Church gave Aretha Franklin her start and on Thursday, she returned there.
The superstar, who died earlier this month at the age of 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, lay in repose at the Detroit church where her father once served as pastor.
The lines stretched down the block on Linwood Street on Thursday afternoon. At one point, singing broke out as the crowd took up the gospel song “Amen.”
Alita Scott-Fletcher said she came from Washington, D.C. to stand in the Detroit heat for hours outside New Bethel because “[Franklin] is worth it.”
“When she sings it ministers to your soul,” Scott-Fletcher said. “No one will ever replace her.”
While Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, she was raised mostly in Detroit, where her father, C.L. Franklin, was a prominent minister, a nationally known gospel singer and pastor of New Bethel from 1946 until 1979.
Franklin sang in the choir of her father’s church, though she declined her dad’s offer of piano lessons and taught herself instead. She began recording gospel music at age 14.
Her body was returned to that sanctuary on Thursday.
Dressed in a rose gold dress and gold sequined heels, Franklin’s casket was surrounded by massive floral arrangements. On the pulpit, poster-sized photos of her through the years rested on easels.
Volunteers from the church, many of them dressed in the uniform familiar to black church goers that identified them as members of the usher board, deacons and nurses, lined the walls around the building welcoming the public to what would be the last visitation before Franklin’s private funeral on Friday.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was present at New Bethel and spoke of his dear friend to a group of media gathered.
“Beyond the stage she did so much,” he said. “She stood with Dr. King, she stood with [Nelson] Mandela, she stood with [Barack] Obama. She never stopped serving.”
Robert Smith Jr. has been pastor of New Bethel for the past 36 years and looked on as the crowds waited to pay their final respects.
“She loved God, she loved the church, she loved the people of the church,” he told CNN.