The Special Meaning Behind Aretha Franklin's Red Dress at Her Public Viewing


Most people try to avoid thinking about death. I can’t say I blame them.

It’s scary to think about the dissolution of our mortal bodies. Even in the Bible, the Apostle Paul described death as “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

But when a famous person passes on, it forces society at large to consider the topic. One of those striking reminders came most recently from the Queen of Soul.

CNN reported that Aretha Franklin died the morning of Aug. 16 from pancreatic cancer. Since then, her passing has stirred the entertainment world, her hometown of Detroit and the nation at large.

Following her death, the famed singer received honors usually reserved for heads of state. Her body rested in repose in Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History on August 28 and 29, drawing large crowds.

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“I’ve been waiting since Monday, (August 27),” LaTonya McIntyre told CNN. “I got in line at 4 p.m. on Monday.”

Many people said they came because Franklin’s music had defined the lives of older family members. Others said her death was an important moment in history and that her charitable works deserved to be remembered.

Today’s reigning queen of pop, Taylor Swift, honored her as well. During a sold-out show on Aug. 28 at Detroit Field, Swift called for a moment of silence for the late singer.

“Last week we lost an irreplaceable force. Aretha Franklin did so much for music, she did so much for women’s rights, she did so much for civil rights,” Swift said, according to People.

Yet surely just as many people have found themselves captivated by the pomp and pageantry around Franklin’s death as they have the worthy works in her life. After all, the Queen of Soul is going out in style.

On the first day of her public viewing, she was dressed in Christian Louboutin shoes and a red lace dress. She lay surrounded by pink roses (her favorite color), and executive vice president of Swanson Funeral Home Linda Swanson personally altered the chiffon bell sleeve on the gown’s collar.

“She is presented in a way that reflects her life and her legacy,” Swanson explained to the Detroit Free Press. “She is, indeed, resplendent in repose, as a queen should be.”

But the glamour wasn’t simply for show. According to Inside Edition, the red dress serves as a reminder of something more.

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Franklin had been granted honorary membership into Delta Sigma Theta, a mostly African-American sorority. The shade of her dress matches its official colors.

It’s good that the organizers had the foresight to point beyond the spectacle of the moment because if death reminds us of one thing, it’s that the present time is fleeting.

But tears and heartbreak needn’t be our only response to the inevitability of death. In his hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” St. Francis of Assisi pointed us to something better than despair or a preoccupation with the things that are fleeting.

He wrote, “And thou most kind and gentle death, / Waiting to hush our latest breath, / O praise Him! Alleluia! / Thou leadest home the child of God, / And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
Wheaton College
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