When Pattie Dixon decided to charter a bus to Detroit for the homegoing services of Aretha Franklin, she was unprepared for the groundswell of area residents wanting to pay respect to the icon who etched “Respect” into our consciousness.
“The phones started ringing, and kept ringing,” Dixon, 65, who runs her own travel agency, said Monday evening. “It was, ‘Do you have any more seats?’ ‘I got two, or three people who wanna go.’ Sunday alone, I got about 15 calls, and I’ve been getting calls all day today. I hated I had to turn people away.”
The 56 who made it on the bus will meet at 3 a.m. Tuesday at Fellowship Baptist Church, 4543 S. Princeton, for the five-hour bus ride to attend the public viewing for the “Queen of Soul,” being held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Many of Dixon’s passengers are retired peers of Franklin, who died on Aug. 16 at age 76, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Others took the day off work. They hail from South and West Side neighborhoods, south suburbs and even Indiana.
“I was born in the ’60s and grew up listening to my parents playing Aretha’s 45s, so I’ve always loved Aretha,” said Tamara Walker, 54, of Gary, Indiana, a U.S. Navy veteran and postal worker.
“I caught her show at Merrillville a few years back, when Jennifer Hudson opened for her. I couldn’t not go to Detroit, because throughout the decades, she has touched the lives of me, my mama and my grandmama. We all could relate to what she was singing,” said Walker.
The group will head right back home after the open casket service, where thousands are expected, with folks already lining up on Monday.
“I had to go pay my respects, even if they had to put a pillow on the floor of the bus. Our birthdays are four days apart,” said Jean Moreland, 76, of Chatham, a retired restaurant owner and manager. “I’ve known Aretha ever since I’ve known music, have loved her since her gospel days, and own everything she’s ever made, in three different forms — 45s, LPs, and CDs.”
East Hazel Crest Ald. Maureen “Moe” Forte, president of that suburb’s library district, doesn’t mind the 10 hours round trip.
“We’re just going down there to view the body, not for the music tribute or the funeral. But it was important to go and show representation, because Aretha Franklin was very instrumental with the Civil Rights movement. She worked alongside Dr. King, and alongside my uncle, the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth,” said Forte, 67.
“And she considered Chicago her home. She was crowned ‘Queen of Soul’ right here in Chicago by the late Purvis Spann in 1968 at the Regal. That’s when her son ‘Respect’ came out. Unfortunately, people heard the beat, but not so much the message.”