Faith Hill and Ariana Grande Deliver Rousing Tribute at Aretha Franklin's Funeral
WENN/Nicky Nelson/Ivan Nikolov

While the country singer sings 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus', the Nickelodeon alum belts out, 'Natural Woman'.

AceShowbiz - Faith Hill kicked off Aretha Franklin's funeral on Friday, August 31 by bringing mourners to their feet with a rousing performance of beloved hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

The country star's set followed opening speeches from Greater Grace Temple pastor Bishop Charles H. Ellis III and Bishop T.D. Jakes, who also read from the Old Testament.

Welcoming guests to his church, Bishop Ellis joked about the late start to the proceedings, stating, "It took a little time to get in here, but I believe the Queen (Aretha) wouldn't have had it any other way. This is going to be a lengthy service."

Bishop Jakes then paid tribute to the late soul legend, who lay, dressed in gold in a gold-plated coffin, before him.

Calling her "an amazing individual" and "classy beyond comparison", he added, "Ubiquitous in her gifting, showing up everywhere, 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...

"She was classy enough to sing on the most prominent stages in the world, but she was homegirl enough to make potato salad and fry some chicken."

Following Hill's performance and a handful of speeches from Detroit dignitaries, including Mayor Mike Duggan, Ariana Grande wowed the Greater Grace Temple crowd with a rendition of Aretha's (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

As the mourners settled down after her set, Bishop Ellis took the singer to the podium and apologised for not recognising her name on the funeral programme.

"When I saw Ariana Grande on the programme, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell. Girl, let me give you all your respect. Did you all enjoy this icon?" he asked.

Stunned Ariana responded, "It's an honour to be here. We love you Aretha."

As she left the stage, Bishop Ellis said, "One of the greatest voices of the urban community."

There were also tributes from civil rights icon Rev. Al Sharpton, who called her music "the soundtrack of the civil rights movement", and took a moment to poke fun at U.S. leader Donald Trump, stating, "Last Sunday, I misspelled 'respect' and a lot of y'all corrected me. Now I want y'all to help me correct President Trump - to teach him what it means.

"I say that because when word had went out that Ms. Franklin had passed, Trump said, 'She used to work for me'. No, she used to perform for you, she worked for us. Aretha never took orders from nobody but God... Now it's time to crown the queen."

He also read a letter from former President Barack Obama, who could not make it to the funeral, before Aretha's friend and fellow Motown legend Smokey Robinson recalled his first meeting with the singer at her house when he was just eight.

"I hear the piano being played and this voice... and I go and look in her room and I see you (Aretha)...," he said, "and from that moment on almost we have been so so close and so tight and I didn't know, especially this soon, that I was gonna be having to say goodbye to you..."

"I know you're up there (in heaven)... and you're gonna be one of the future voices in the choir of angels, because you have to be... The world is celebrating you and the world is mourning you and the world is gonna miss you and I know that I'm gonna miss you so much... We would talk for hours... You're so special."

The service went from sombre to joyous as The Clark Sisters performed Is My Living in Vain, before Aretha's grandchildren Victorie and Franklin, niece Cristal and nephew Vaughn paid their respects, and then the singer's son Edward tested emotions as he performed Mercy Mercy Me over his late mother's casket.

Opera singer Alice McAllister Tillman and Audrey DuBois Harris also performed at the funeral before further tributes from Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and former president Bill Clinton, who ended his speech by playing his favourite Franklin song, Think, on his iPhone.

The funeral was ongoing at press time, with performances still to come from Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder and scheduled tributes from Tyler Perry, Cicely Tyson and music mogul Clive Davis.

Crowds started gathering at the Greater Grace Temple hours before the funeral started as celebrities like Tyler Perry, Whoopi Goldberg, Ronald Isley, and Jennifer Holliday arrived to mourn the Queen of Soul.

Emotional Holliday told reporters that she would perform the final song at the end of the service, as Aretha's body was carried out of the sanctuary.

"My voice over the queen as she's going to her final resting place... This is the greatest honour of my life to have known her, that she thought I was somebody too," she said.

Before the mourners took their seats for the funeral 100 pink Cadillacs formed a processional to the ceremony - a reference to a lyric on Aretha's track Freeway of Love - as Franklin's casket was carried inside by seven pallbearers.

Guests paid their final tributes to the Queen of Soul as she lay in all her finery in the open casket before the funeral began. The coffin lid was closed by members of the singer's family just before Bishop Ellis urged everyone to put their cell phones away, warning that anyone caught trying to record any portion of the service would be asked to leave by state troopers.

An estimated 4,000 people gathered inside the church for Aretha's final bow.

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