The gesture is a nod to Franklin's Grammy award-winning 1985 hit "Freeway of Love" and its lyrics about driving in a pink Cadillac. Crisette Ellis, the wife of Bishop Charles Ellis III of Detroit's Greater Grace Temple, said they were inspired by how police line up their cars during funerals for fallen officers. "My husband said, 'Wouldn't it be awesome if we could have a sea of pink Cadillacs parked on Seven Mile Road to greet Ms. Aretha Franklin as she arrives?'" she told NPR.
The funeral, which officially kicked off at 10 a.m. EST at Greater Grace, caps a weeklong celebration of Franklin's life and songs, including a two-day visitation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and concerts. Performers also include Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson and the Clark Sisters, while Tyler Perry and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are also scheduled to speak. HLN and the Word Network, plus several local Detroit television affiliates, plan to broadcast the funeral, and outlets including The Associated Press and USA Today plan to livestream it.
Having sung at the inaugurations of three presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — Franklin was an American institution. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President George W. Bush in 2005.
Clinton entered the church with his wife, Hillary, to loud applause and stood quietly by Franklin's open casket before the service started. Franklin's body was dressed in a golden sequined outfit.
The funeral was closed to the public, but crowds of fans gathered outside, many dressed in their church best.
"This is as close you get to royalty here in America and Aretha earned every bit of it," Missy Settlers, a 53-year-old automotive parts assembler, said.
Franklin died at her Detroit home on Aug. 16 from pancreatic cancer. She began her musical career as a child singing gospel at the city's New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father, C.L. Franklin, was the pastor, famous for his hypnotic sermons.
The city has treated her death as the passing of royalty, and Detroit does epic funerals for its fallen icons. In 2005, the funeral for civil rights hero Rosa Parks, at which Franklin sang, stretched for more than seven hours. Franklin will be laid to rest at the same cemetery in Detroit as Parks. Franklin's body is being carried in a 1940 LaSalle hearse that was also used to carry Parks' body in 2005.
Her body is to be interred later Friday at Woodlawn Cemetery near the remains of her father; her brother, Cecil Franklin; and sisters Carolyn and Erma Franklin.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.