Black audaciousness was on display in the pageantry at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and at Greater Grace Temple, as folk came to town to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin’s home going was a spectacle that could only be pulled off with Black flair and consciousness. The event’s officials gave Aretha four wardrobe changes as 100 Cadillac cars cruised Detroit. That gesture was inspired by Franklin’s iconic hit “Freeway of Love,” and engineered by Mary Kay national sales director Crisette Ellis who had asked employees who owned pink Cadillacs to show up for the funeral service.
Greater Grace Temple is a 6,000-member Detroit mega-church. First Lady Crisette Ellis is a Detroit native and Michigan State University graduate. She is married to Bishop Senior Pastor Charles H. Ellis III, the Presiding Prelate of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.
A successful entrepreneur, Crisette Ellis happens to own a big pink Escalade. Ms. Ellis is with Mary Kay cosmetics. She made history becoming Mary Kay’s first and youngest Michigan African-American National Sales Director.
The world should take note of the role Ms. Ellis played in the gathering of vehicles participating in the homage. The coral-colored cars cruising the city were affiliated with the Mary Kay Inc. cosmetics brand.
The multilevel marketing company leases the pink Cadillacs to top-selling salespeople, aka “beauty consultants,” who have sold $100,000 worth of Mary Kay products in a year. In most cases the pink Caddies were driven by consultants in SUVs and sedans emblazoned with “Mary Kay” on the sides.
Be you Black, or White, a pink Cadillac is universally considered a “symbol of success.” In order to qualify for the coveted pink Cadillac, consultants must each build a sales team of 12 or more members and net a minimum of $18,000 in product orders within four months. If consultants are then able to hit the $100,000 mark within a year, they don’t actually get to own the cars—rather, Mary Kay comps two-year “co-op” leases, after which they can choose to sell their cars back to the dealership or purchase them. Consultants can also opt for a monthly cash incentive. The program began in 1969 when Mary Kay Ash rewarded her top five sellers with a blush-colored ride. These days, there are more than 1,000 pink top-seller Cadillacs on roads.
Pink was the color of the Sedan de Ville that Mary Kay Ash bought for herself in 1968, and it became the color of the small fleet of Cadillacs she leased for her top sales reps in 1970, establishing a tradition that’s since become the stuff of American corporate legend.