Pink Cadillacs to line Detroit’s streets in honor of Aretha Franklin

“We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac,” declared Aretha Franklin in her 1985 hit single “Freeway of Love.”

Now, more than three decades on, dozens of pink Cadillac owners will pay a special tribute to the “Queen of Soul” by lining up their cars in Detroit for her funeral Friday.

The display is being organized by Crisette Ellis, whose husband, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, serves as pastor at the Greater Grace Temple, where the funeral will be held. While the tribute is an apparent reference to the song that won Franklin her 12th Grammy (and its artwork, which features the singer in a pink Cadillac), Ellis told NPR that the idea was inspired by the way police line up their vehicles to honor 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 the radio show. At the time of that interview, Ellis said more than 130 pink Cadillacs would be participating.

Described by the Detroit church as its “First Lady,” Ellis also works as a sales director for the cosmetics firm Mary Kay, which is known for rewarding top employees with pink Cadillacs. Ellis said she expected vehicles from as far afield as Texas and Florida.

The tribute is sure to attract attention. Earlier this week, when Stuart Popp of Plymouth, Michigan arrived in Detroit in his pink 1956 Cadillac Grand Seville, the singer’s fans reportedly posed in his vehicle for pictures and sang “Freeway of Love.” Popp told CNN he was asked to drive in Franklin’s funeral procession.

“This was way bigger than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I was a fan of her music.”

A car company with history

Cadillac was founded in Franklin’s home city of Detroit in 1902. Another of the company’s cars — an ivory 1940 LaSalle — was used to transport the singer’s body to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where it was on display in a gold-plated open casket earlier this week. (There will be a second public viewing at the New Bethel Baptist Church on Thursday.)

The vintage hearse is the same one used to transport the bodies of the soul singer’s father, famed civil rights figure the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.

The cars will line up at the church from before the start of the service. Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson are expected to speak at the funeral, which will feature performances from artists including Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande.