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Pink Cadillacs Will Line Up For Aretha Franklin's Funeral

Aug 29, 2018
Originally published on August 29, 2018 7:23 pm

When Detroit celebrates the life of Aretha Franklin on Friday, there will be more than 100 pink Cadillacs lining the road in front of the church where her funeral will occur. It's a tribute to the Queen of Soul and one of her biggest, Grammy-winning hits.

"Freeway Of Love" is a joyous driving song. In its chorus, Franklin sings, "We're going riding on the freeway of love / In a pink Cadillac."

Crisette Ellis happens to own one such car, a big pink Escalade. Driving down Seven Mile Road in Detroit, she explains how she and her husband, a pastor at Greater Grace Temple, came up with the idea. They were inspired by how police line up their cars during the funerals of 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 says.

Ellis is an independent national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics — the company that rewards its top sellers with pink Caddys. When she decided to make the "Freeway of Love" tribute real, she appealed to others who might own a pink ride.

"They're coming from everywhere," Ellis says. "They are coming from as far as Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Florida; North Carolina; Maryland."

At last count there were 130 pink Cadillacs, Ellis says — including a few classic, big ones from the 1960s. The automobiles are expected to stretch for blocks in each direction in front of the church.

"So any cars, or any of the limousines, will literally come through a tunnel of pink Cadillacs," Ellis explains.

Late Monday night, there was a rehearsal underway for a musical tribute that will be held Thursday night to honor Franklin. Naturally, "Freeway Of Love" is on the set list.

Kern Brantley, who led the rehearsal, is a music director. He worked as a bass player and producer for Franklin and says there's a reason the song was such a hit — especially in the Motor City.

" 'Freeway of Love' is like an anthem for us Detroiters," he says. "[It] starts off with a Motown beat, and that's the pulse of the city."

The mostly black-and-white video for the song is a Detroit love letter, as well. There are scenes of auto assembly lines, the city skyline, the Motown Museum and local interstate signs.

So, Ellis says, lining up pink Cadillacs on the day of Franklin's funeral is the right thing to do. "This is a show of respect," she says.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When Detroit celebrates the life of Aretha Franklin on Friday, there will be more than a hundred pink Cadillacs lining the road in front of the church where her funeral will occur. It's a tribute to the queen of soul and one of her biggest Grammy-winning hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEWAY OF LOVE")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac. We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love...

GREENE: From Detroit, here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: "Freeway Of Love" is a joyous driving song about a particular automobile, and Crisette Ellis happens to own one.

CRISETTE ELLIS: OK. Well, are you all buckled in? All right. We are rolling.

CORLEY: Ellis pulls out of the parking lot at Greater Grace Temple, where her husband is the pastor. She drives her big, pink Cadillac Escalade down Seven Mile Road and talks about how she and her husband got the idea. Ellis says parking pink Cadillacs on the road is just how police line up their cars during the funerals of fallen officers.

ELLIS: And my husband said, wow, 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 arrived?

CORLEY: Ellis is an independent national sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics. That's the company that rewards their top sellers with pink Caddies. When she decided to make the "Freeway Of Love" tribute real, she appealed to others with the pink ride.

ELLIS: They're coming from everywhere. They're coming from as far as Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Florida, North Carolina, Maryland.

CORLEY: At last count, 130 pink Cadillacs says Ellis, including a few classic big ones from the 1960s. The automobiles are expected to stretch for blocks in each direction in front of the church.

ELLIS: So any cars or any of the limousine - they literally will come through a tunnel of pink Cadillacs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAXOPHONE PLAYING)

CORLEY: Late Monday night, there was a rehearsal underway for a musical tribute that will be held tomorrow night to honor the Queen of Soul. And you know what song is on the set list.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEWAY OF LOVE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love, wind's against our back.

CORLEY: Kern Brantley, who is leading the rehearsal, is a music director. He worked as a bass player and producer for Aretha Franklin. He says there's a reason why the song was such a hit, especially in the Motor City.

KERN BRANTLY: "Freeway Of Love" is just kind of like an anthem for us Detroiters, you know, freeway in a soulful city. You know, "Freeway Of Love" starts off with a Motown beat, and that's the pulse of this city.

CORLEY: The mostly black-and-white video of the song is a Detroit love letter. There are scenes of auto assembly lines, the city skyline, the Motown Museum and local interstate signs. So Crisette Ellis says lining up pink Cadillacs on the day of Franklin's funeral is the right thing to do.

ELLIS: This is a show of respect for Ms. Aretha Franklin.

CORLEY: Now, my rental car is no pink Cadillac, but I can still pay tribute to Aretha Franklin by taking a drive along the freeway.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEWAY OF LOVE")

FRANKLIN: (Singing) We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac. We goin' ridin' on the freeway of love, wind's against our back. And we're ridin' on... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.