Diva to the end: Aretha Franklin lies in open gold coffin wearing ruby red heels
The regal presence Aretha Franklin exuded in life is being captured at the viewing of her body, with the late Queen of Soul in a gold-plated coffin and dressed in a red gown and high heels, proving she was a “diva to the end”.
Hundreds of mourners poured into Detroit’s Charles H Wright Museum of African American History to pay their final respects to Franklin, who died on August 16 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.
The two-day viewing is part of a week of commemorations for the acclaimed singer, who will be laid to rest on Friday.
The Wright Museum is a cultural landmark in Detroit, where Franklin grew up and spent most of her life.
Museum board member Kelly Major Green said the goal was to create a dignified and respectful environment akin to a church, the place where Franklin got her start.
“What we wanted to do is be reflective of the Queen,” Ms Green said. “It’s beautiful. She’s beautiful.”
She said Franklin’s attire and pose communicated both power and comfort, as she did in life. The shoes in particular show “The Queen of Soul is a diva to the end”, Ms Green added.
Fans strolled by the coffin, some in tears. One woman blew a kiss to Franklin, who was surrounded by massive arrangements of roses of different hues.
Tammy Gibson, 49, from Chicago, said she arrived at about 5.30am. She came alone but made fast friends with others who sang and reminisced.
Ms Gibson said when she was growing up she heard Franklin’s music “playing all the time” by her parents, who “told me to go to bed — it’s an adult party”.
Outside the museum, she said: “I know people are sad, but it’s just celebrating — people dancing and singing her music.”
Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece, said she began planning this week’s festivities earlier this year.
“After all she gave to the world, I felt we needed to give her an appropriate send-off that would match her legacy,” she said. “She loved the city of Detroit and the city of Detroit loved her.”
The roses that surround the coffin, Ms Owens said, reflected her love for the flower and her propensity to send arrangements “in grand fashion”.
Franklin was dressed in red as a symbol of her membership in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The service organisation of predominantly black women plans a private ceremony in honour of Franklin.
To Ms Owens, the dress — with its ornamental elements and sheer netting fabric — looked like something Franklin would wear onstage and “something she would have selected for herself”.
The setting for the viewings could not be more fitting, according to Paula Marie Seniors, an associate professor of Africana studies at Virginia Tech.
“I think it’s incredibly significant — she is being honoured almost like a queen at one of the most important black museums in the United States,” said Ms Seniors.
She said Franklin was “a singer of the universe”, but was also “so unapologetically black — she was so proud of being a black woman”.
For all the formality, Ms Owens said the viewings are intended to be welcoming and accessible for legions of fans.
“She respected them — she understood that if it were not for them, she wouldn’t be who she is,” she said.