Bill Clinton delivered a moving and funny remembrance of Aretha Franklin at the soul singer’s funeral on Friday, labeling her “the voice of a generation, maybe the voice of a century” and referring to himself and his wife, Hillary Clinton, as “Aretha groupies.”
Clinton – who recruited Franklin to sing at numerous events during his tenure as U.S. president – told the congregation at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple that he was awe-struck while recently re-reading the singer’s autobiography. The politician briefly summarized Franklin’s musical evolution, spirituality and kindness to other musicians – even playfully touching on her fashion sense. “I was so happy when I got here and the casket was still open because I said, ‘I wonder what my friend’s got on today?'” he said of arriving to the funeral. “I wanna see what the girl is carrying out.”
“This woman got us all here in these seats today,” Clinton said. “Not because she had this breathtaking talent, which she did. Not because she grew up … at least a princess of soul because of her father, her mother, her relatives. But because she lived with courage – not without fear, but overcoming her fears. She lived with faith – not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power – not without weakness, but overcoming her weaknesses.”
Clinton ended his speech by playing a snippet of Franklin’s 1968 classic “Think” from his cell phone, eliciting a joyous response from the crowd.
The Clintons had a longstanding relationship with Franklin, who performed “I Dreamed a Dream” at a pre-inauguration concert for Bill Clinton in 1993. Franklin was also honored at the Kennedy Center in 1994, though Clinton did not attend the ceremony.
When news broke of Franklin’s illness earlier this month, Clinton tweeted, “like people all around the world, Hillary and I are thinking about Aretha Franklin tonight & listening to her music that has been such an important part of our lives the last 50 years. We hope you’ll lift her up by listening and sharing her songs that have meant the most to you.”
Following Franklin’s death on August 16, Hillary Clinton wrote, “she deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts.”