DETROIT, Mich. — Bishop Charles Ellis III remembers Aretha Franklin well, he said. He grew up a few blocks away from her home on the Outer Drive and played little league baseball with her sons Edward and Clarence.
“We’re family down through the years,” Ellis said during an interview. “Her being a preacher's kid. My dad being a preacher's kid.”
They had a lot in common, he said. From enjoying Gospel music to taking Karate lessons at a local recreational center with her sons. Now that she’s passed, Ellis said he’s honored to host her homegoing service at his church Greater Grace Temple on Seven Mile Road. To him, she was more than a musical icon.
“This is a real lady,” he said. “This is a real mother and grandmother and aunt and she’s gone forever.”
Thousands are expected to attend her service at 10 a.m. on Friday, which is when the family is scheduled to arrive. Thursday afternoon crews were testing different light settings and moving chairs around on the stage, behind the pulpit where Ellis will speak.
"Tomorrow is going to be a tremendous day.” said Ellis’ wife and GGT First Lady Crisette. “Its going to be a day filled with celebration.”
Aretha’s longtime friend Stevie Wonder is scheduled to perform, as well as country star Faith Hill. Some of the keynote speakers include former president Bill Clinton and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
“We said a prayer,” recalled Rev. Jesse Jackson about the last time he saw her. “So I just said goodbye. I rubbed her warm hands, her warm arms, and kissed her forehead.”
He too will speak at the homegoing service. Thursday he visited Aretha’s childhood church, New Bethel Baptist Church, where she began her iconic career before making chart-toppers like Respect and Think.
“And of course you know her song, Riding on the Freeway of Love in what? A Pink Cadillac,” Crisette. “I don’t know why she chose pink. I’m glad she did.”
While standing in front of three pink Cadillacs, Crisette pointed to them and said 130 of them will line Seven Mile for her service. They’re coming from all over the country for the event. However as upbeat and colorful as the service will be, Ellis said it’s important to remember that it is still church.
“This has to be spiritually up-lifting,” he said. “People have to leave here understanding that all the money, all the fame, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Tonys, and notoriety that you can get cannot stop you from dying. And when that day comes all of that means nothing for you.”