Her soaring voice, seared with emotion, would become the inspirational standard for other singers to match.
Outside the museum, the star's adoring fans waited for their chance to say their goodbyes to Aretha, who is dressed in and red dress, heels and matching lipstick in an open casket. More than 100 pink models of the iconic USA automobile are expected to file in outside the church on the day of her funeral.
Paula Marie Seniors, associate professor of Africana Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said the setting for public viewings of the superstar entertainer couldn't be more fitting.
"I think it's incredibly significant - she is being honored nearly like a queen at one of the most important black museums in the United States", said Seniors. Many of those in line were from Detroit, but others traveled from as far as Las Vegas and Miami.
Tuesday is the first of two days of the public viewing at the museum.
Seniors said Franklin was "a singer of the universe" and was also "so unapologetically black" and "so proud of being a black woman".
The museum also hosted civil rights activist Rosa Parks's viewing in 2005.
Former US President Bill Clinton will be among the speakers.
Her funeral will be held the next day at Greater Grace Temple, with Stevie Wonder rumoured to be performing at the intimate gathering.
The Associated Press will livestream her invite-only funeral service Friday starting at 10 AM ET, with news outlets around the globe expected to pick up the coverage.
In her 1985 hit "Freeway of Love", Franklin sang about cruising in a pink Cadillac.