WATCH: Hundreds pay respects as Aretha Franklin lies in state


Detroit - Fans queued en masse on Tuesday to pay their respects to legendary US singer and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, whose body lay in a golden casket dressed in a ruffled red dress and matching heels in Detroit.

The 76-year-old icon, beloved by millions around the world, died of cancer on 16 August,  bringing down the curtain on a spectacular six-decade career that made her one of America's most celebrated artists.

Thousands of people are expected to bid her farewell at the Charles H. Wright Museum for African American History on Tuesday and Wednesday, at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church on Thursday, and a star-studded funeral on Friday.

White-gloved, sharp-suited pallbearers escorted her casket into the museum on Tuesday, ahead of the two days of 9 am to 9 pm viewing, where she lay in state surrounded by enormous clouds of pink, white and purple roses.

"I broke down when I was standing there. She was beautiful," said nurse Monique Valentine. "It was just an awesome experience. I was glad to be here."

The gospel, soul and R&B star influenced generations of female singers from the late Whitney Houston to Beyoncé with unforgettable hits including Respect (1967), Natural Woman (1968) and I Say a Little Prayer (1968).

Considered royalty in her Michigan hometown of Detroit, people reportedly camped out through the night to pay their respects, and travelled from far and wide, at times breaking into song or wearing Aretha T-shirts.

They queued down the street and around the block, swaying to Franklin tracks, or breaking into song and dance, with a steady flow trickling inside.

'ON A CLOUD'

Aretha Franklin

(Photo: AP)

"Thank you Queen, thank you for all your years of loving us," said one woman, dressed in a floral romper suit dancing with her friends outside the venue to Franklin's 1985 hit Freeway of Love.

In the marble museum, people gazed at the musical icon, resplendent in her finery. Outside, they posed for snapshots next to her cream hearse.

A group of five friends told AFP they drove from Chicago, dressed alike in white pants and blue Franklin T-shirts to pay their respects despite heavy rain which is sweeping parts of the Midwest.

"It was beautiful, like she's laying on a cloud," said Kim Harrison.

"You can only look that restful and peaceful when you're at home with the lord, so I know where she is and she's in a better place and she looks wonderful," added one of her friends, Clemey Robinson.

Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and provided a soundtrack to the civil rights movement, singing to raise money for the cause and uplifting activists with her phenomenal voice and upbeat anthems.

Her signature song, Respect - recorded as a feminist anthem - became a rallying cry as African Americans rose up nationwide in the 1960s to fight peacefully for racial equality.

QUEEN OF DETROIT

Born in the segregated American South in Memphis, Tennessee, she moved to Detroit with her prominent Baptist preacher and civil rights activist father.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a family friend. She sang at his funeral after he was assassinated in 1968, as well as at the inaugurations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the country's first African-American head of state.

She was awarded America's highest civilian honour by president George W. Bush and tops Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest singers of all time.

"We had to come and pay our respects to the Queen of Soul, and she's also the Queen of Detroit," explained Jelekeco Whitaker, who works in landscaping and community. "That's why you've got this big turnout."

A free tribute concert honoring Franklin's life will be held on Thursday evening, before her funeral at the Greater Grace Temple on Friday, where Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Hudson are among stars expected to perform.

Clinton, Smokey Robinson and Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, are among those expected to address the invitation-only service, which will be broadcast to the public from a large screen outside.

More than 100 pink Cadillacs are expected to file in outside the church, a nod to Freeway of Love. The car company was founded in 1902 in Detroit, for decades the home of the US motor industry.

Franklin married and divorced twice, and had four sons, including two by the time she was 15 years old.