The 72-year-old political titan was visibly moved as he took to the podium and thanked those in attendance “for giving me and Hillary a chance to show up and just say that we started out not as a President or First Lady — or a Senator, Secretary of State. We started out as Aretha groupies or something!”
Over the course of the passionate speech, he paid tribute to the Queen of Soul by recognizing both her musical talents as well as her strength of character. “This woman got us all in the seats today not because of her music, but because she lived with courage. Not without fear, but overcoming her fears. She lived with faith — not without failure, but overcoming her failures. She lived with power — not without weakness but overcoming her weaknesses. I just love her.”
Clinton also couldn’t resist making a loving comment about the icon’s many wardrobe changes over the course of her multi-day public viewing.
“I want to say, and I hope god will forgive me, I was so glad when I got here and the casket was still open, because I said, ‘I wonder what my friend’s got on today. I wanna see what the girl is carrying out,'” he said to cheers and laughter.
Turning serious, he reflected on her strenuous work ethic and dedication to the less fortunate. “We’re living in a time where a lot of the virtues I just described to you are not very much in fashion. She cared about broken people.”
Before departing the stage, the former leader held his phone to the microphone and started playing Franklin’s “Think” as the crowd clapped along. “This is the key to freedom!” Clinton said. “God bless you, Aretha — we love you!”
Clinton attended the funeral alongside wife and fellow politician Hillary Clinton. Both had previously mourned Franklin’s death on Twitter, sharing that the Queen of Soul’s music “has been such an important part of our lives the last 40 years.”
“She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts,” the 2018 presidential nominee tweeted following Franklin’s death. “Rest in eternal peace, my friend.”
The Clinton family and the “Think” singer’s relationship stemmed from the early 1990s when Franklin performed at the President’s inaugural ceremonies in 1993.
In 1999, the former president also awarded the singer with the National Medal of Arts and Humanities at the White House.
Bill Clinton joins a list of high-profile attendees and speakers at Franklin’s funeral. Smokey Robinson, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cicely Tyson, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Clive Davis and others were also set to speak at the funeral.