News & Opinion

Aretha Franklin - 1942-2018

In ruby-red stilettos, Aretha Franklin bids a diva’s farewell

The Daily Beast

August 28, 2018

People in Detroit are paying their respects to Aretha Franklin, who—lying in a gold casket—looks commandingly stylish in red dress, and a stunning pair of ruby-red stilettos.

The pictures of Aretha Franklin lying in an open casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit are respectful, and also completely fabulous.

Her face is not visible, and what we see from behind is the outline of a brilliant red outfit, and then the ensemble’s pièce de résistance: a pair of shiny ruby-red stilettos, Franklin’s feet crossed over one another in a relaxed position.

If you are one of music’s most revered divas, it is a most stylish way to say farewell; both grand and utterly individual.

Franklin died, aged 76, on August 16 of pancreatic cancer. Her body was conveyed to the museum in a classic white LaSalle Sedan, according to The Sun. The shimmering, gold casket containing her body is inscribed inside with “The Queen of Soul” in small gold letters. Her music played, as people filed past to pay their respects.

The body is not laid out with feet set conventionally separated. They are presumably in the position Franklin would have wanted, or how her loved ones would wish to remember her; and those shoes suggest someone who put commanding style at the highest premium.

Well, we knew that: who can forget the magisterial hat Franklin wore at Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, and the many beautiful dresses she wore in public and on stage, right up to the white dress and jacket she wore for her final performance at a gala celebrating the 25th anniversary of Elton John’s AIDS Foundation in November 2017.

After her death, her hat designer Luke Song recalled to The Daily Beast her love of fashion, bling, and her grand demeanor.

“The only way I can describe it is that she was Detroit: everything about her was Detroit. She represented Detroit so well: in her songs, in her sense of style, everything about her. It just represented Detroit to me. I really can’t put my finger on how I can describe her sense of style in any other way than that.”

Social media predictably blew up at the sight of Franklin magnificently owning, in death, her final look, and coos of online delight were also issued over the gold casket her body lay in, and the lavish arrangements of pink and lavender roses around it.

The AP reported that Franklin also wore earrings, red lipstick, and red nail polish.

The dress had ornamental elements and sheer netting fabric, and was similar to something she would wear onstage and “something she would have selected for herself,” her niece, Sabrina Owens, told the AP.

Owens and Franklin’s lawyer, David J. Bennett, did not respond to Daily Beast requests for comment.

Owens told the AP that Franklin had both loved roses and had sent arrangements “in grand fashion.”

Franklin was dressed in red, Owens said, because it was symbolic of her membership in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The service organization of predominantly black women planned a private ceremony Tuesday night in the museum in honor of Franklin, the AP reported.

Owens said the museum has held services for many dignitaries, most famously Rosa Parks: “It was important that Aretha take her place next to them and lie in state there.”

Museum board member Kelly Major Green told the AP that the setting and layout of the public viewing was intended to “be reflective of the Queen. It’s beautiful. She’s beautiful.”

Green added that Franklin’s attire and pose communicated both power and comfort.

The shoes, in particular, showed “The Queen of Soul is a diva to the end,” Green said.