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Aretha Franklin's Detroit church holds vigil for ailing singer

"We're asking you to touch the Queen of Soul. We're lifting our sister up to you," said Robert Smith, New Bethel Baptist Church's pastor.
/ Source: Associated Press

DETROIT — People are praying for Aretha Franklin in the Detroit church where her father was once a pastor.

The special vigil at New Bethel Baptist Church began before dawn Wednesday and attracted more than 100 people sharing prayers and song for the "gravely ill" music legend, reported NBC affiliate WDIV.

"We're asking you to touch the Queen of Soul," said Robert Smith, New Bethel's pastor, according to The Detroit News. "We're lifting our sister up to you."

Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, led the church for decades, and it became a backbone of the local civil rights movement. Pictures of the reverend, who died in 1984, and his famous daughter still adorn the walls outside of the sanctuary.

People pray at a morning service for singer Aretha Franklin.
People pray at a morning service for singer Aretha Franklin at the New Bethel Baptist Church on Wednesday in Detroit, Michigan.Jeff Kowalsky / AFP

The prayers come one day after Stevie Wonder visited the ailing Queen of Soul at her home. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Franklin's ex-husband, actor Glynn Turman, also visited Franklin, who is seriously ill.

WDIV reported Monday that Franklin, 76, was "surrounded by close friends and family."

No further details were available about her health, although she has struggled in recent years and announced in 2017 that she planned to retire.

Fans, friends and musicians influenced by Franklin offered positive words to the iconic singer when news broke that she was ill, including Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tyler Perry, Missy Elliott and Wayne Brady.

At her concert in Detroit on Monday night with Jay-Z, Beyoncé thanked Franklin for her "beautiful music" and said "we love you." They dedicated their show at Ford Field in her honor.

Former President Bill Clinton tweeted Monday that he and Hillary Clinton "are thinking about Aretha Franklin tonight & listening to her music that has been such an important part of our lives the last 50 years."