It’s a question that was asked early and often following the passing of Aretha Franklin, "How do you honor a queen?"
The answer was on display in Detroit Friday morning as more than 120 pink Cadillacs cruised down 7 Mile Road, escorting the hearse carrying the Queen of Soul to Greater Grace Temple.
“I had to cut it off!” said Crisette Ellis, the first lady of Greater Grace Temple, noting that the number ballooned so fast she was amazed.
The idea sprang out of a common sight at funerals for fallen soldiers, police officers and firefighters. Bishop Ellis wondered aloud, if a motorcade and police cruisers are used to honor a fallen hero what’s the equivalent for a woman who touched generations of people through her music and good deeds?
Franklin’s hit song ‘Freeway of Love’ inspired the move to bring in pink Cadillacs. If you lived under a rock, or are too young to remember, the lyric read: “We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love, winds against our back. We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love, in my pink Cadillac.”
“That has been an anthem for those of us that drive a pink Cadillac,” Ellis said. “Driving a pink Cadillac in our world says success. We get respect when we drive a pink Cadillac, so all I can imagine is that Ms. Franklin would look down and say, ‘That is how you show r-e-s-p-e-c-t to the Queen of Soul.”
Nancy Pettaway broke into song while showing her Escalade to camera crews on Thursday, “we did that all the way here.”
“Going back I think we’ll just turn the music off and reflect,” she said. “It helps you reflect on your own life and what kind of legacy you will leave for other people.”
Pettaway drove from Killeen, Texas to Detroit. The trip took 19 hours, and according to organizers, she wasn’t the one making the furthest trip.
“A long trip, but so worth it,” said Pettaway.
Perda Harris flew from California to meet her daughter, and her pink Cadillac, in Chicago.
“Her music just made the house happy,” Harris said.
“We just sang out loud,” added her daughter, Caterina Harris Earl. “We danced. We sang. It was associated with every single family gathering that I remember throughout my childhood.”
Harris Earl has been driving a pink Cadillac for more than 20 years — she said the music of Aretha Franklin was always part of her life, now the music brings back floods of happy memories. She said she’s always known that Franklin had an impact on her community, but since her passing she’s been able to learn even more about how she worked along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and supported the Civil Rights movement.
”That makes a big difference for all people,” Earl Harris said. “For all women. As an African American woman, it absolutely impacted me.”
That impact is why so many reached out to honor Franklin with a 100+ pink Cadillac envoy.
Those who showed up to witness the celebration of life on Friday flocked to the street when the pink Cadillacs arrived, some folks who had waited for hours in line risked their place in line to rush over to snag pictures of the line.
Nancy Pettaway summed it up well describing why Franklin’s celebration meant to much: “She moved you. Her music made you better, it made me better.”