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Aretha Franklin lies at father’s church ahead of tribute concert

DETROIT, United States (AFP) — Aretha Franklin on Thursday returned to her father’s church for the last time, lying resplendent in an open casket dressed in a rose gold outfit and sequin stilettos ahead of a tribute concert on the eve of her funeral.

Thousands of fans have poured out to pay their respects to the US music icon and “Queen of Soul” at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit on Thursday and earlier for two days at the Charles H Wright Museum for African American History.

The 76-year-old singer, beloved by millions around the world, died of cancer on August 16, closing the curtain on a glittering six-decade career that made her one of America’s most celebrated artists.

Debra Demmings, 63, drove all night from Minnesota to get in line at 7:30 am — more than four hours before the final public viewing of Franklin’s body began.

“I’m on a cloud,” Demmings told AFP, comparing the atmosphere to that of a Barack Obama presidential inauguration she attended.

“It was like pure love. Everybody was together… I feel that same feeling here today,” she said.

On the outer wall of the church, the words “Queen” were spelled in gold balloon letters and “Aretha” in silver. The queue was estimated to stretch for more than a kilometre in a carnival atmosphere with people breaking out into song and swapping stories.

On Tuesday, Franklin’s body wore a red dress with matching heels, on Wednesday she was in blue, and on Thursday in rose gold, along with rose-gold sequined Christian Louboutin stilettos.

“She’s the Queen of Soul and the Queen of Detroit and she will truly be missed,” said Susan Hendricks, 57, whose parents used to worship at the church and was brought up listing to Franklin’s music.

“I was truly emotional,” she said of seeing Franklin for the last time.

The ivory 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse with Franklin’s remains pulled up to the church in a convoy of white vehicles. White-gloved, dark-suited pallbearers then carefully wheeled the gold-plated coffin inside.

“I wanted to come here in the jubilance, the joyousness, the celebration of Aretha and her legacy,” said Dorlena Orange, 68. “We’re like a party. It’s like a beautiful, wonderful thing.”

The New Bethel Baptist Church held a special place in Franklin’s heart. It was there that she hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for parishioners and the needy, and also recorded an album.

In the evening a free concert honouring Franklin’s life is set to kick off at 6: 00 pm at the Chene Park Amphitheatre, an outdoor riverfront arena in downtown Detroit that has 5,000 seats and 1,000 lawn spaces.

Headliners include Gladys Knight, The Four Tops, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Angie Stone. Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, is also in the line-up.

Guests are encouraged to wear white, with more than 40 performers to take part in what has been billed “A People’s Tribute to the Queen.”