AP – Elvis, Whitney, Prince, Biggie and, now, Aretha: The funerals and public memorials of music royalty have been as varied as the work they created, from small family affairs to days of tributes as huge in death as they lived their lives.
One Aretha Franklin fan said it best as she made her way to the front of a Detroit museum Tuesday to pay her respects.
“I know people are sad, but it’s just celebrating — people dancing and singing her music,” said Chicagoan Tammy Gibson, who arrived at 5:30 a.m. “I saw the gold-plated casket — it dawned on me: She’s gone, but her legacy and her music will live on forever.”
The regal presence Aretha Franklin exuded in life was captured at her viewing on Tuesday, with the late Queen of Soul in a gold-plated casket dressed completely in red, including high-heeled pumps, proving, as one person put it, that she was a “diva to the end.” As Franklin’s powerful vocals from classic gospel performances were piped through the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer looked as if she was preparing for one more performance. She wore earrings, red lipstick and red nail polish, and her hair was cut short. Her dress — with its ornamental elements and sheer netting fabric — was reminiscent of an outfit she would wear onstage and “something she would have selected for herself,” her niece, Sabrina Owens, told AP.
He died Dec. 25, 2006. Along with thousands of fans, Michael Jackson, Little Richard and Stevie Wonder were among dozens of celebrities who attended or performed at various events. There was a public memorial at New York’s Apollo Theater on Dec. 28. Another memorial drew more than 8,000 fans to the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Georgia, on Dec. 30. A private funeral was held in North Augusta, in Brown’s native South Carolina.
Brown’s body (which underwent three wardrobe changes in Augusta) was placed in a bronze casket polished to a high shine. It was driven through the streets of New York to the Apollo in a white, glass horse-drawn carriage. There was a similar procession in Georgia, where fans screamed when Jackson entered the arena.
And the music? It was ever-present, shown on video screens and performed live, as was the case with the send-offs for many other luminaries in the business.
Jackson spoke briefly in Augusta: “James Brown is my greatest inspiration. … When I saw him move, I was mesmerized.”
The sudden death of Jackson himself at age 50 convulsed fans around the globe on June 25, 2009. After a private service, a public memorial on July 7 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles was broadcast live around the world. The audience has been estimated at more than 1 billion.
Jackson’s bronze casket, similar to Brown’s, was plated with 14-karat gold and lined with blue velvet. Each of Jackson’s brothers wore a single white sequined glove to honor him. The celebrities on hand included Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.
Queen Latifah read “We Had Him,” a poem written for the service by Maya Angelou. Jackson’s daughter, Paris, only 11 at the time, wept as she spoke of her love for the “best father you could ever imagine.” The ceremony was televised around the world.
Jackson was buried weeks later, on Sept. 3 in Glendale, California at a private burial attended by Elizabeth Taylor among others.
Her family declined to hold a public service after her sudden death in Los Angeles on Feb. 11, 2012, at age 48, choosing to honor the pop icon with a televised, invitation-only funeral at New Hope Baptist Church in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
And what a funeral it was on Feb. 18. It lasted four hours at her childhood church that seated 1,500. Her shining casket was transported by a gold-colored hearse and topped with roses of soft purple and off-white.
Performances by Stevie Wonder, CeCe Winans, Alicia Keys and others were mixed with hymns sung by the church choir. Houston’s musical mentor, record mogul Clive Davis (she died right before she was to attend his pre-Grammy party), and Houston’s cousin, Dionne Warwick, spoke. So did Kevin Costner, her co-star in the 1992 film “The Bodyguard.” And Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer were among the guests.
It was a procession fit for a king.
Presley died at Graceland in Memphis on Aug. 16, 1977. The crowds in the aftermath got so thick that then President Jimmy Carter called out 300 National Guard troops to manage things.
After a trip to a funeral home for embalming, the body was returned to Graceland and set up in the foyer for public viewing. More than 30,000 fans were let in, according to one account.
The funeral on Aug. 18 was modest, held in Graceland’s living room. It was attended by celebrities, of course, including his “Viva Las Vegas” co-star Ann Margret, along with James Brown. More impressive was the long line of cars following Presley’s white hearse on the way to Forest Hill Cemetery for burial next to his beloved mother, Gladys Love.
An estimated 80,000 people lined the street with handmade signs to watch the procession.
After a thief tried to snatch his body, the remains of both Elvis and his mother were moved to a garden at Graceland.