As former world heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis walked through the doors of Greater Grace Temple today on 7 Mile in Detroit to help celebrate the life of his late trainer Emanuel Steward, another iconic entertainer sat with friends in a back room of the church, trying to control her emotions.
Aretha Franklin, Motown songstress supreme and close friend of Steward, was taking a moment to grieve before the memorial to the Kronk Gym legend, which has attracted boxers and dignitaries from around the the globe.
Franklin confirmed she would sing “I’ll Fly Away” as a tribute to Steward, who died Oct. 25, at age 68.
“I can’t put into words how I feel about the loss of Emanuel,” said Franklin, who regularly attended fights and Kronk fundraisers. “He made champions of amateurs and rendered great service to the city.”
What would Franklin remember most about Steward?
“His winning million-dollar smile,” she said. “He was a hero to me.”
Along with Lewis, many other fighters Steward mentored were arriving at Greater Grace, including Wladimir Klitschko, who defended his heavyweight titles Saturday night in Hamburg, Germany.
Also in attendance: Roy Jones, Andy Lee, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, Hilmer Kenty, Iran Barkley, Kara Ro and William (Caveman) Lee, who fought Marvin Hagler for the world middleweight title.
As Tommy Hearns stood near the portrait of his mentor and father figure just before the public ceremony was about to begin, he said: “I think this is wonderful, the celebration of Emanuel’s life. I’m very happy that the boxing world has turned out for him today.”
A giant painting of the godfather of Detroit boxing is looking out on the congregation today. The painting, at the front of the huge church, shows Steward in dark blue shirt and lighter blue pants, holding a pair of red Kronk boxing gloves. Around him are flowers sent by fight legends, including former world champ Oscar De La Hoya.
“My thoughts are with your family. You will be missed,” De La Hoya said on a card.