It was a somber day on Tuesday, August 28, as a large crowd gathered outside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan to pay respects to Aretha Franklin, who passed away on August 18 at the age of 76 from complications surrounding a pancreatic tumor.
Aretha’s hearse, a white 1940 Cadillac LaSalle, was the perfect vehicle to carry the body of the Motown legend, because, as it turns out, the two-door, three-speed vintage has quite the history attached to it. In fact, that same car was used to carry both Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father, in 1984 and David Ruffin, baritone for the Temptations, in 1991. It was even the hearse used for civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who died in 2005.
“It was a very cool car and absolutely speaks of Detroit,” Jonathan Klinger, a spokesman for Hagerty Classic Insurance, told the Detroit Free Press.
“The LaSalle from that era had a perfect combination of sportiness and luxury. It’s just very fitting that a classic icon of Detroit, Aretha, was driven by a classic automotive icon of Detroit.”
Steve Arthur, who has been a driver for Swanson Funeral Home for 30 years, said that the president of the home, O’Neil D. Swanson, has owned the LaSalle since the home opened in 1958. Arthur — who typically drives the LaSalle, but did not for Aretha’s visitation — also pointed out that the vintage car is usually kept in storage, only being used for special requests.
Of course, it was no surprise that they brought it out for the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.
“She is an icon,” Arthur said. “I thank God for having her in our city with us.”