The body of the Queen of Soul was laid out in a gold casket, wearing a red, lace-trimmed ruffled suit and crimson satin pumps on the first of two days of public visitation at the museum.
Embroidered in golden thread in the lining of the casket were the words "Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul."
“It was very moving,” said Charlotte Smith, 55, of northwest Detroit. “She has a beautiful smile. ... She looks serene resting as a true queen.”
The body of the legendary singer was to lie in honor for public visitation Tuesday and Wednesday at the museum. The Wright museum, founded in 1965, was the largest African American museum in the country until the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C., in September 2016.
It's part of a week of mourning — and celebration — to honor Franklin, Detroit's hometown superstar, who died Aug. 16 of advanced pancreatic cancer at the age of 76.
Franklin arrived at the museum in a 1940 white Cadillac LaSalle hearse as people lined the streets outside waiting to pay their respects to the Queen of Soul.
Many of the fans slept all night on the sidewalk, hoping to be among the first into the museum. By 8 a.m., as many as 200 people were lined up outside.
“I got chills,” said Pat Turner, 56, of Alexandria, Va., when she saw the car pull up with the casket inside.
Melissa Howard flew to Detroit from Austin, Texas, on Monday to be sure she secured her place in line.
"She's the Queen," said Howard, 50, who arrived at 6:30 p.m. Monday. “She's royalty. She's worth it.”
Latonya McIntrye, 43, of Las Vegas also flew in to pay her respects.
“I got here at 4:30 yesterday afternoon,” she said. “I love Aretha.”
A pink Cadillac pulled up in front of the museum before the doors opened, and the crowd burst into applause and song.
Charles Thomas, 59, of Detroit stood out there, waiting for his turn. He said he wanted to pay tribute to Franklin for her contributions to the civil rights movement.
“I love Aretha,” he said. “She helped the movement — her and Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. She went through the back door so people who look like me could go through the front door.”
Carolyn Adkisson, 52, of Detroit said she grew up with one of Franklin's sons, and attended high school with him. She said she couldn't miss today's services.
“This city loves her,” she said. “I love her. Aretha Franklin, she always gives back.”
That sentiment was echoed among her hometown fans.
“She meant so much to so many people,” said Frances Billingslea, 59, of Detroit's west side. “She’s a local talent. She was a down-home spirit. She didn’t put herself above anybody even though she was the Queen of Soul. She did so much for this community.”
Camille Howard joined her cousin Melissa Howard on the trip.
“I've never been to Detroit before,” Camille Howard said. “Everyone has been so hospitable. It’s a great opportunity for fellowship.”
Howard said Franklin’s niece, Chrystal, heard people were spending the night outside so she stopped by about 1 a.m. with some bottled water and White Castle hamburgers.
“She just wanted to thank us on behalf of the family,” said Melissa Howard, who’s been a fan since she was a child.
“I was blessed to see her twice,” she said.
Six television trucks were parked nearby, including two satellite trucks parked in the median of East Warren Avenue. A police K-9 unit inspected around the entrance to the museum and parking was tight along the road.
The CVS drug store across the street wasn't open yet, but security guards already were there to shoo away would-be parking interlopers. But the mood was festive with people sharing memories of Franklin.
“When we were little girls, we would all dress up a little and sing her songs in the living room,” said Teresa Massey Walker, 48, who came from Buffalo, N.Y., to pay her respects. Her brother, Timothy Robinson, lives in Eastpointe and came with her about 9 p.m. Monday to get a good spot in line.
“I was a DJ in high school,” Robinson said. “I loved to play her songs. ‘Call Me’ was my favorite.”
Thousands of fans, dignitaries, celebrities and politicians are expected to convene in the Motor City to pay their R.E.S.P.E.C.T.s to the icon known as the Queen of Soul, the Detroit diva who lifted her voice in praise at her father's church, at presidential inaugurations and for fans around the world.
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