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Pink Cadillacs Will Line Up For Aretha Franklin's Funeral

A pink Cadillac outside the viewing of Aretha Franklin at the Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday.
Jeff Kowalsky
AFP/Getty Images
A pink Cadillac outside the viewing of Aretha Franklin at the Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Tuesday.

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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Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.