Aretha Franklin: Touchstone of Motor City car culture

Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul whose voice and music became a touchstone of the Motor City’s car culture and Detroit 3 marketing efforts, died Thursday. The Memphis-born singer and longtime resident of the Detroit area was 76.

Franklin, the daughter of a preacher, used her roots in gospel and later soul to become a musical genius and help shape American pop music for generations, while becoming an influential force in Detroit and its signature industry.

Franklin, affectionately dubbed “Lady Soul,” “Soul Sister No. 1” and the “Queen of Soul” by critics and fans alike, starred in a number of ads, including a 1980s anthem for Chevrolet, which fell under the brand’s national “Heartbeat of America” campaign. It dominated the nation’s family rooms when the fall TV season began in October 1988.

Her award-winning song, “Freeway of Love,” released in 1985, spotlights the manufacturing of several vehicles of the 1970s, including the Ford Mustang and Cadillac Cimarron. The streetwise lyrics and black and white video paid homage to Detroit and became one of the most popular driving tunes of all time:

…Oh, we got some places to see

I brought all the maps with me

So jump right in, it ain’t no sin

Take a ride in my machine

City traffic movin’ way too slow

Drop the pedal and go, go, go

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

Wind’s against our backs

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

In my pink Cadillac…

At its core, the video conceptualizes Detroit’s joyful, industrial spirit. Mechanics dance in harmony as Franklin sings alongside saxophonist Clarence Clemons, with a young Randy Jackson, later an “American Idol” judge, on bass.

Parts of the video were shot at Doug’s Body Shop in Ferndale according to the Detroit Free Press, and includes scenes from the headquarters of Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, along with the giant Uniroyal tire in Allen Park.

A true optimist, Franklin was vocal in her unwavering support and commitment to the city, with high hopes for GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

“Between new and dynamic leadership with the Big 3, the private sector and a little help from D.C., Detroit’s best and most glorious days are still ahead,” Franklin, weighing in on the city’s bankruptcy, said in 2013.

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