Return to Transcripts main page


Remembering Aretha Franklin; Aretha Franklin's Funeral. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired August 31, 2018 - 13:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Clark Sisters paying tribute to Aretha Franklin.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

It's truly a star-powered celebration of life styled for a queen in underway in Detroit right now and it's all to honor the legendary queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.

Take a look at this. We'll show you some live pictures from inside the Greater Grace Temple Church, where family, friends, and some fortunate fans are paying their respects. Among the well-known faces was one of Aretha Franklin's childhood friends, Smokey Robinson.


SMOKEY ROBINSON, FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: So now my longest friend has gone home, and you went to be with our Father, like we all have to do one of these days. And I know you're up there and you're celebrating with your family and with all of our neighborhood friends who have gone, and you're going to be one of the featured voices in the choir of angels because, you know, you'd have to be.


BLITZER: Through prayers of comfort, songs of celebration, the life of the queen of soul is being remembered right now.

Take a look at some of the moments from the service so far.



ISAIAH THOMAS, FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: It's a very tough day. Even though you knew over the last couple of months that she was sick, you knew this day was coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had so many gifts. She could sing, play, write, and perform with other artists.

Every artist that is doing very well have patterned themselves after her. They do her runs, her (INAUDIBLE), that kind of stuff we get from her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aretha wasn't just about music. You know, looking at being a part of the civil rights movement, to what she's been able to do as a messenger through her music, that's been truly unbelievable. And we ride on her shoulders and will continue to carry on that legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People have come to pay tribute to a once in a lifetime talent whose voice was the sound track of our lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aretha Franklin (INAUDIBLE) by herself has touched the world, each of us in our own way, from the palaces in England singing for the queen, to popping up in the backseat of a car in the middle of a commercial, Aretha was everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was the world's queen, an invaluable musical treasure, a humanitarian, a daddy's girl filled with amazing grace. But more than anything else, she was a quintessential epitome of the greatness and authenticity of the city of Detroit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was so amazing to her city, and she gave back. She used to give programs. She used to feed people. I mean, the neighborhood. And it's like they're giving back to her saying thank you today.


BLITZER: An amazing woman indeed.

Tyler Perry, Whoopi Goldberg, former President Bill Clinton, they're just some of the other prominent guests in attendance. The incredible lineup of speakers and performances still to come also include the former president, as well as Chaka Khan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, and Stevie Wonder.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Young. He's joining us now from Detroit, just outside the funeral, with more.

Set the scene for us, Ryan.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been unbelievable when you think about the combination of people here, but then you think about all the normal citizens who just wanted to come out and pay their respects to the queen of soul.

We've been here for the last few days, and we've watched thousands of people, some who could barely walk who said they had to be here, they wanted to come, they wanted to make this journey because of how much she meant to them. When you think about the civil rights movement -- and I was talking

with Jesse Jackson. He talked about the times she would go around the country, making sure she would use her voice to help raise money for Martin Luther King and the push for civil rights. And the idea that one time they were somewhere and someone tried to tear gas her out of that arena, and she would not leave. She wanted to make sure she could perform.

[13:05:10] But then also the fact that Detroit has gone through some tough times and she never left Detroit. And I think people here definitely remember that. And there's an idea that she's connected to her church. There's the gospel that's involved here. The fact that her voice came from God. That's what so many people say. And they believe this is the only way for her to go.

There's so many preachers involved in this as well. And you think about that connection to the civil rights movement and the church and the black community and all this sort of comes together. This is also a celebration of a lifetime, this woman who dedicated her life for six decades to music, but also serving her community because every year she would try to feed the homeless in the city. Last night the city was awash of pink. And you could see respect all over the place.

And you look at the crowd here, it is a mix of people. And, of course, generations now coming together to remember a woman whose voice will never die, and that's been the conversation so far outside.

When we were inside and saw some of these people come in, Bill Clinton, when he walked in, got a standing ovation. Smokey Robinson was standing just behind us and welcomed the family. These connections lasted generations. And just think, Reverend Jesse Jackson has been holding her hand through all this, still has to get up and talk about losing another friend.

This is a generation that this country is connected to in a different way, especially when you think about civil rights and the black community.


BLITZER: This celebration of her life, as it's being called, Ryan, it's been going on now for, what, about three hours or so, maybe a little bit longer. They were originally planning five hours, but it looks to me -- I'm looking at the schedule, it looks like this could go a bit longer.

YOUNG: Absolutely, Wolf. I know you've been to a black church before. Sometimes we don't stick to the time limit. This is the program that I have in my hand. We have been taking bets out here. We believe it's going to go a lot longer.

In fact, somebody said they plan to be here for eight hours. And, guess what, she deserves a day. That's what we've been told by so many people. There were people who were lining up, fans were getting here yesterday at 4:00 in the afternoon. There was a rumor that fans were going to be allowed into the funeral. And that's exactly what happened. We were with them as some like nearly a thousand people who just got to go inside, they got wristbands, and they were so excited to go inside and be able to pay their respects. So, yes, I think it's going to stretch some time.

You got preachers who need to speak next. An d they're not going to stay to a five-minute limit. They're going to go on. They're going to preach the Gospel. You know that's going to probably happen.

BLITZER: They certainly will.

All right, Ryan, stand by.

Fredricka Whitfield, our CNN anchor, is in Detroit as well.

And you've been watching every moment of this celebration of life, Fredricka. Tell us a little bit about your impressions.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hello to you, Wolf.

It's been an extraordinary day of emotion. I mean people are emoting in so many different ways how much they love Aretha Franklin, how much they respect her, how much they honor her, how much she has done for them. In fact, let's go inside the church right now and hear the rest of this ongoing service, which is like going to church for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), this ain't (INAUDIBLE) Park. This is a church. And in church, we do what church folk do. Come on, take Ms. Franklin to church. Watch this. I hear somebody saying I didn't know they was going to do all of that.

WHITFIELD: All right, so, Wolf, this is a tribute to her church roots at New Bethel Church here because this has been a moving ceremony that is spiritual based.

And I was talking to her ghostwriter biographer earlier, David Ritz (ph), who talked about how spirituality, you can hear it in every genre of music that Aretha Franklin would touch. You heard it in her R&B. You heard it when she was, of course, doing Gospel. You heard it when she was doing pop music. You heard it when she was doing opera music. You heard it when she was doing Broadway tunes. This is the foundation of Aretha Franklin.

And it has been a celebration. This has been a true home-going celebration for her. And it has also involved people who have been part of her musical life and her personal life in so many different ways.

NBA star Isaiah Thomas, he joined me a couple of hours ago talking about how, as a 20-year-old, he came to Detroit and Aretha Franklin called him and invited him essentially into her world. They developed a beautiful relationship, a mentor relationship.

[13:10:11] So many people have called her, Aretha Franklin like my mom, Aretha Franklin like my sister. I spoke with the Clark Sisters earlier, who you saw them performing here in church at this ceremony earlier. And when I spoke with them this morning, they called her like a big sister. They were Detroit born. They remember as kids, you know, being enamored and idolizing Aretha Franklin. And then to be in her company and have an opportunity to sing with her.

I talked with Shirley Caesar, who reflected -- and she is on the program, she has yet to speak -- she reflected on how difficult this day is going to be for her, how her heart is so heavy and -- but how honored she is that she had an opportunity to sing with Arena Franklin as a teenager. Shirley Caesar also a teenager. And then they would both be invited to the Obama White House and perform there as a Gospel tribute.

Everyone speaks so eloquently of her. And when you talk to folks outside of this church, there were thousands of people who didn't have an opportunity to get inside. They lined up hoping that they would be able to. When you talk to them, they speak as though they knew her because all of them speak so eloquently of how Aretha Franklin embodies Detroit. And you can feel it. It is palpable.

And we're going to continue to enjoy this ceremony, this celebration of life because we're going to be hearing from Stevie Wonder as well, a long-time friend, Chaka Khan with her musical tribute. You heard Smokey Robinson a bit earlier, who did a beautiful improvisational, almost like a singing letter as he looked down at the 24 caret gold- plated casket of Aretha Franklin, talking about his friend and how he is going to miss his friend.

So, Wolf, this is a beautiful ceremony in tribute to the queen of soul. But there's a lot of love here. You can feel it. There's a lot of spirituality. It is full.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Not only the former President Bill Clinton, I think I saw Eric Holder in the crowd, the former attorney general of the United States --


BLITZER: During the Obama administration as well.

Fred, he's going to be speaking as well, right?

WHITFIELD: That's right. Eric Holder will be speaking. Former President Bill Clinton. And, you know, what's so remarkable, there's so many remarkable things about Aretha Franklin, but she was not political. She would tell you that she was not political, but she was in the political arena in so many different ways.

Of course, you know, during the civil rights movement. She was involved in three presidential inaugural celebrations. The first one being in 1977 with Jimmy Carter and then Bill Clinton, who is on deck to speak today. He has been a big fan of Aretha Franklin. And he invited her to be a part of his inaugural celebration. Then, of course, once he was in the White House, he would reach out to Aretha Franklin again, and she would be part of his life and part of the cultural celebrations of the White House.

And, of course, who can forget at the 2009 inaugural ceremonies of Barack Obama and how Aretha Franklin essentially stole the show there wearing her beautiful, you know, gray ensemble with her hat that was just so striking.

So she has roots in the White House, and she has been a recipient of the Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. So there's no surprise here as to why this fitting tribute, a tribute fit for a queen, would be that, that is taking place today for Aretha Franklin.

BLITZER: And, Fred, who put together the program for today, the celebration of life for this truly amazing American woman?

WHITFIELD: It was a collaborative effort, but her niece apparently has been instrumental in hand-picking and designing the program for today. And, Wolf, we got a copy of the program here. And it's a beautiful, you know, piece of memorabilia here. It's got beautiful photographs of her spanning so many different portions of her life. And then this two-page, you know, biography of her life that, you know, spanning the beginning, and then you move on to, you know, her musical career. I mean, you know, it was crafted by family.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, hold on for one moment. Hold on for a moment. Members of Aretha Franklin's family have now walked up to the stage. And we're going to hear from them. This could be an emotional moment. I want to listen.


I remember when I was a kid, people used to always ask me, what does it feel like to be Aretha Franklin's granddaughter? And I'd always shrug my shoulders and go, I don't know, it's just my grandma.

[13:15:04] And at that young, I didn't really understand what that really meant. I knew she was someone special. I knew she was someone important. But I didn't really understand how big it was.

As a kid, I've seen some of the greatest things. I've met some of the greatest people. And it was crazy because these amazing people were excited to meet me. And when I would go to her shows and watch her sing, it would be the best feeling in the world. Nothing sounded better to me than the way my grandma sings. Her voice made you feel something. You felt every word, every note, every emotion in the song she sang. Her voice brought peace. And watching her on stage, from a young age, to the last performance I saw her at, I knew that performing was something I was born to do.

As a kid, I couldn't understand what it was like to be Aretha Franklin's granddaughter, but I did know -- oh, I didn't know what that meant, but now I know what it feels like. It feels amazing to see a woman so fierce, so courageous, gifted, so respected, and to be able to call that my grandmother, to know that I have that running through my blood, and that she's a part of who I am -- and to know that she's a part of who I am, there's nothing like that.

Every time I learn something new about my grandma, I see that I have so much of her in me, and it makes me smile. I'm so proud to have had someone like her in my life to pave the way for me. I love you, grandma, and I will make you proud.


I prepared something for my grandmother that I wanted to share with everybody.

Dear grandma, I love you. I know in my heart that you're happy now and that's all that I care about. No amount of words can articulate what you mean to me, grandma. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for believing in me as much as you did. And thank you for always putting the family first and showing us the right way to handle success.

I'm sad today because I'm losing my friend, but I know that the imprint she left on this world can never be removed. You showed the world God's love, and there's nothing more honorable. I'm so proud of you. I know you'd be watching me from the windows of heaven. And I promise to carry our family legacy with pride and joy. Long live the queen.

CRISTAL FRANKLIN, NIECE OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: I just want to first start out by saying, I thank each and every person that's sitting in this auditorium. I think each and every person who stood in line to see my aunt at the African-American Museum at New Bethel Church. I want to thank everyone who bought her album, who bought her concert tickets. I want to thank everyone who ever took a picture of my aunt, whoever wrote an article about my aunt, and whoever loved every last song that she wrote.

When I was born in '73, she always was the -- she was already the queen of soul, had won eight Grammys, had top ten hits on the top 100, but to me she was just my aunt. My father's sister. And I was her namesake. I was given the name Cristal Robin Aretha. I was named after my mother's younger sister and my father's famous sister. My aunt Robin never let Aretha forget that her name came first, but Aretha would laugh and say they saved the best for last.

To the world, she was known as the queen of soul. But to me, she was just my aunt. The one who gave birth to my first (INAUDIBLE), my aunt who came to live with us at the age of six with my Uncle Vaughn, who I had no idea was a big movie star. The aunt who sung at my high school graduation, taught me my bad shopping habits, and took her granddaughters, my daughters, and I to see Disney on Ice.

[13:20:08] My aunt who taught me that emeralds were more than diamonds when we shopped for my graduation gift that I'm wearing today. My aunt who gave me my open house for college and cooked dinner for my roommate and I when she came to visit Detroit for spring break. My aunt who had a picture of my best friend and I on her piano for over 20 years, the one who listened to me when I told her she had to have Jill Scott and Mary J. on her diva special and she had to go on "Wendy." My aunt who chartered a bus so our family could go to President Obama's inauguration and made sure I was front and center for the swearing in.

The one who taught me the importance of capturing every moment with a picture or two. And after every award ceremony, she was my gossip girl. The one who could bring grown women and men to tears from the sound of her voice and the only person on earth that could call me Chrissy.

I will be forever grateful for every road trip, every person I ever met through my aunt, and I'm grateful for most of all that she had a loving brother who loved my mom and they got married and made me. And, in turn, I made my daughter Brooklyn, who is now graduating from Howard this year, and that's all possible because of my aunt.

One of the most important things to our family is education. My daughter goes to Howard, and Victorie goes to Howard too. And their children will continue the legacy of education because I will continue it in my family name of doing the foundation so that children will never forget who my aunt was, never forget who my grandfather was, never forget my Aunt Carolyn, never forget my Aunt Erma, never forget my father, and never forget my Uncle Vaughn.

And, again, I just want to say to everyone sitting here, everyone watching in the world, thank you.

VAUGHN FRANKLIN, NEPHEW OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: I was once told that love is a verb. You can tell a person that you love them, but in the end it is what you show them that matters.

My aunt loved as much and as hard as she could. As I thought about what I was going to say when I stood up here today, I thought about how much my family and I loved our mother, our grandmother, our auntie, the matriarch and the pillar of the Franklin family. I asked myself, how do you say good-bye to someone that you just love so much? Someone who has been with you for all of your adult life. Someone who took you under their wings and loved you like a son after the death of your parents. Someone who was there for you through the good times and the bad times. And someone who could make you smile with a simple hello.

Over the past few months, I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth from Atlanta to Detroit to help take care of my auntie in any way that I could. During those visits, she and I talked about the importance of family, and we would even cook together.

When I was with my auntie in July at her apartment in downtown Detroit, she and I were talking, and she paused for a moment in the middle of the conversation and asked, Frankie, what do you think? I knew what she was talking about, but how do you find the words to tell someone that you love so much that you can see her health and her physical statue declining each time that you saw her? At that moment, I knew and understood that she was aware that her final days were near.

I started my remarks by asking, how do you say good-bye to someone that you love so much? We're not saying good-bye, auntie, but farewell, until we see you again in our final resting place. Thank you.

[13:25:19] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please receive the musical tribute from Miss Franklin's son, my friend. We lived eight blocks from each other. Come Edward. We lived on Otto Drive (ph) and Wyoming (ph) and Ms. Franklin lived on Sorento (ph) and Otto Drive (ph). Went to McDowell (ph) Elementary together and Obien (ph) Junior High, Clarence and Edward and myself. And we played little league baseball and karate lessons and cub scouts and all of that. They had a little more money than we did.

Miss Franklin would always have Ed to sing on one of her appearances in concert. And he wants to give a tribute to his mother. I ask you to give God praise for Mr. Edward Franklin as he gives his mother a musical tribute.


EDWARD FRANKLIN, SON OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: We love you, mom. You're still here with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Mr. Eddie Franklin, our friend, second son of Miss Aretha Franklin.

At this time Sabrina Owens is coming with the obituary, be followed by Allister Tillman. And we'll make a deviation in the program and bring after Alice, Bishop Marvin Sapp (ph).

[13:29:27] SABRINA OWENS, ARETHA FRANKLIN'S AUNT: Aretha Louise Franklin. Aretha Franklin is a giant of soul music and an American national treasure who continues to be revered around the globe. One of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide, the undisputed queen of soul. She created an amazing legacy of more than six decades. She has sung before heads of state and foreign royals and gained admiration from fans, colleagues, and fellow artists across all genres. She is both a 20th and 21st century musical and cultural icon who is known all over the world simply by her first name, Aretha.