Aretha’s Eulogist, Jasper Williams Feels Overwhelmed By Assignment
On a sultry dog day in August thirty-four years ago, Rev. Jasper Williams received a telephone call from Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul and his friend, at that time of 41 years. The two had met when Williams was 16 and Franklin was 17 years of age.
Franklin called to inform Williams that her father, Rev. C. L. Franklin, a renowned preacher and civil rights leader, had passed. Her father had lingered in a coma for five years after he had been shot by a thief who had broken into his home in Detroit.
Williams was saddened by the news. He had grown up in the shadow of Rev. Franklin, learning what it took to lead a flock on Sunday and to agitate for civil rights throughout the week. A child preacher at age seven, Williams had followed in the footsteps of his uncle, Rev. A. R. Williams who had lived near Rev. Franklin, the two daily engaging in a game of checkers.
When Williams’ uncle visited the Franklin home sometimes he took young Jasper with him. Jasper became acquainted with Aretha and enamored with the preaching style, dignity and integrity of Rev. Franklin.
In 1984 when Aretha called with the news that Williams’ mentor had passed to the other side, she told him that the family had discussed two great preachers in the African American church to preach Rev. Franklin’s eulogy. They were Rev. Jesse Jackson, who at that time was a Democratic candidate for president and the legendary Rev. C. A. W. Clark, but Aretha asked Williams to do her father’s eulogy.
Williams thought he had come of age as a preacher when he received the request to preach the eulogy of this great leader in the Black community. He likens being selected to preach Rev. Franklin’s eulogy to Elisha receiving the mantle from Elijah.
“Dr. C. L. Franklin was the prophet, the icon, he was the guru, he was the greatest preacher of the 20th century,” Williams said.
In this spirit Williams has run his race for the past 34 years, then again this August, he received a call from Aretha Franklin’s family informing him that Aretha was in hospice care and had requested he preach her eulogy.
Williams replied, “Tell Aretha I will do whatever it is she wants me to do, if I…