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Pastor reflects on Aretha Franklin's life

Pastor Robert Smith Jr., Aretha Franklin's friend and pastor of the church she began her career at, shares stories of Franklin's dedication to the church.

Posted: Aug 17, 2018 4:12 AM
Updated: Aug 17, 2018 4:27 AM

The pastor of the church Aretha Franklin's father served for years is drawing strength now from the singer's relationship with God.

"She always put God, church, and her father first in her life," Pastor Robert Smith Jr. told CNN Thursday, before news of her death was announced. "No matter where she was, no matter what stage she was on, you're going to know about her church, you're going to know about her father, and you're going to know about her God."

Smith presides over Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church, which Franklin's father, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn "C.L." Franklin, pastored from 1946 to 1979.

He said the singer never left the church and that she had been "trusting God all her life."

"She's known God as her savior, certainly, but she had to believe that that voice that she has -- that very special voice, I call it a gospel voice that comes from the soul, no matter what she's singing, it could be the Star Spangled Banner, but you could hear church right in it," he said.

He said Franklin aided the church by giving concerts to raise money and wrote "big checks" to help them feed those in need.

Smith said his usual early morning Wednesday service -- usually attended by about 10 to 12 people -- turned into a prayer vigil for Franklin with more than 100 attending.

Former publicist worried about singer's health

Clarence Waldron, Franklin's former publicist, said Wednesday he was grappling with the singer's health crisis.

"I have been pushing myself, denying myself of the chance to grieve," he told CNN affiliate WDIV-TV in Detroit. "It's very sad and I know it's inevitable and it'll hit me later on, but it's very difficult to hear that."

A source close to Franklin told CNN's Don Lemon earlier this week that the singer was being visited by people close to her who are reading messages from friends and loved ones and holding her hand.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Franklin on Wednesday, said Rainbow Push spokeswoman Chinta Strausberg.

Waldron, who worked for the singer from 2014 to 2016, told the Detroit television station he's maintained a friendship with her.

He said there were times when Franklin would have to cancel appearances for health reasons and on doctor's orders.

"We would simply say we are not doing any interviews at this time," Waldron said Wednesday. "She's going to be home resting, and that is all. There's no more to say than that."

He said he never inquired as to what was wrong with Franklin.

"Nope! Nope! Nope! I never inquired. I never inquired at all," Waldron told WDIV. "I felt that she -- she's a grown woman. She'll say what she wants me to know and what she wants the world to know."

The publicist said he was very worried when Franklin was too sick to attend her December 2017 Christmas party.

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