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Bill Clinton shares stories of Aretha Franklin at funeral in Detroit

Former president speaks at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit

DETROIT – President Bill Clinton came to Detroit Friday to speak at Aretha Franklin's funeral at Greater Grace Temple.

Clinton said he and his wife, Hillary, didn't start out as president, senator or secretary of state, but "Aretha groupies."

"She was only about four years older than me, five years older than Hillary, so when we're getting out of college was when she finally got her big breakthroughs," Clinton said.

Clinton said although Franklin had the voice of a generation, and maybe of the century, she worked for years singing at her church, jazz clubs and places where soul was being born and rock 'n' roll was being played.

READSen. Debbit Stabenow says Aretha Franklin represented true American spirit

"This woman got us all here in these seats today, not because she had this breathtaking talent, which she did, not because she grew up ... as at least a princess of soul ... but because she lived with courage," Clinton said. "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."

Clinton said Franklin sang for many occasions, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and when the emperor and empress of Japan visited the country.

"I figured out, I think, that the secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and this perfect culture that raised her and decided to be the composer of her own life song," Clinton said. "What a song it turned out to be."

Clinton said he was happy that the casket was still open when he arrived at the funeral because he wanted to see what his friend was wearing.

"For all the wonderful things Aretha did for me, all the great events she appeared at, my most endearing memory of her was almost happenstance," Clinton said. "I was there at what turned out to be the last public singing she ever did at Elton John's AIDS benefit last year."

MOREFormer US Attorney General Eric Holder: Aretha Franklin 'moved us and inspired us'

Clinton said he showed up early when he learned that Franklin was performing.

"I was like a grade school kid," Clinton said. "Here I am, an old gray-haired guy. She heard I was there and she summoned me back. She's sitting there, obviously desperately ill, gaunt. She stood right up and said, 'How you doing baby?' I said, 'Well, I'm doing better now.' She said, 'Well look at me, I finally got thin again.' That took a lot of guts to say that. Then she went out into this setting and all these people who loved her were awestruck and said, 'Can you believe she showed up?' She sang not one song, not two songs, not three songs. She had them bring a chair out and she sang for 45 straight minutes."

You can watch Clinton's full remarks in the video posted above.