R&B icon Stevie Wonder paid tribute to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin at her Detroit funeral today (Aug. 31) with a moving performance of “As” in front of Franklin’s friends, family, and other distinguished guests.
Stevie performed the 1976 Songs in the Key of Life classic after delivering a harmonica rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer,” as well as a speech about the importance of love, in both Aretha Franklin’s life and music and in the world at large. “As we talk about all the things that those have talked about today, please remember that the greatest gift we have been given in life itself is love,” he preached. “Yes, we can talk about all the things that are wrong — and there are many — but the only thing that can deliver us is love.”
He went on to offer what could be interpreted as a rejoinder to Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr.’s official eulogy for Franklin, delivered a half-hour earlier, which asserted that “Black lives do not matter… until black people start respecting black lives, and stop killing ourselves.” Instead, Wonder offered that “Black lives do matter. Because all lives do matter. And if we love God, then we know that truly, it is our love that will make all things matter.”
Wonder also discussed the impact of Aretha having performed one of his songs, and his hope to work with her again beyond this world. “I never imagined that when I wrote this song at the age of 15, Aretha Franklin would be singing, ‘Until You Come Back to Me,'” he said. “But she did. And better than I could’ve ever. And I think of every time we talked about that, and we talked about doing another song together on the next album or two. But you know what? I look forward to that time that time when I’m so blessed to be with her again, to write the song that God wants me to write, will be the best ever.”
Wonder had just visited Franklin’s home days before her death on Aug. 16. “She wasn’t able to speak back, but her family felt that she could hear me, and so I just said all the things that I’ve always said and told her to say hello to my sister – that I lost this year as well,” Wonder shared on CBS This Morning the day after her death. “But you know, she did incredible music, incredible singer. She touched every genre. Every singer was influenced in some way by the way she sang, and they will forever be influenced by her because of her voice, her emotion, her sincerity is unforgettable.”
Wonder, who was friends with Franklin for decades, stated during the interview that he and Franklin were even considering a collaboration just months ago. Wonder wanted Franklin to help him with song that he wrote entitled, “‘The Future.”
Franklin was laid to rest in a powerful ceremony featuring performances and speeches from many of her close and talented friends at Detroit’s packed Greater Grace Temple, where hundreds of fans lined up to pay their final respects to the music icon, who wore a sparkling gold dress as her final outfit.
Additional reporting by Andrew Unterberger.