Aretha Franklin funeral: Pastor’s eulogy stirs controversy and Ariana Grande gets an apology

An Atlanta pastor’s fiery eulogy at Aretha Franklin’s funeral has sparked controversy. It was only one of the uncomfortable moments at the ceremony in honour of the Queen of Soul, who died in her home on August 16 at the age of 76.

Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., a friend of Franklin who also delivered the eulogy at her father’s funeral in 1984, made several comments regarding black-on-black crime, African-American mothers and gay people.

The pastor criticised homicides within the black community, then said that African-American women were unable to “raise a black boy to be a man” and later remarked that “the straights need to respect the gays. The gays need to respect the straights,” as NBC News reported.

A woman holds a program from Aretha Franklin’s funeral at the Greater Grace Temple in on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty)

The remarks infuriated several people who were following the live-streamed event. Several comments posted on social media thought that Williams was being disrespectful to Franklin, who was a teenage single mother when her first two sons were born in 1955 and 1957, and to the black and gay community in general.

“Dear #JasperWilliams. I am a Black man who was raised predominantly by a Black woman. I have never slaughtered my people & never will. I own my own business .I’m one of a very few African-Americans with a James Beard Award. I have two. I’m gay & a productive citizen. Bless your heart,” African-American and Jewish author Michael W. Twitty wrote in response to the eulogy.

The ceremony took place at Greater Grace Temple on August 31, in Detroit, Michigan and saw in attendance prominent civil rights activists Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton, current and former politicians such as Senator Maxine Waters and former President Bill Clinton, and music legends like Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan.

Ariana Grande performs during Aretha Franklin’s funeral at Greater Grace Temple on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty)

Singer Ariana Grande gave a rendition of Franklin’s hit “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” but it was the way Bishop Charles Ellis addressed her after the performance that caught people’s attention.

Not only did he made a joke about her name sounding like an item on a Taco Bell menu, but he also put his arm around Grande, with his hand above her waist line and his fingers pressing against the side of her chest.

His conduct was spotted and condemned by several people on social media under the hashtag #RespectAriana.

The preacher was confronted about his behaviour later in the day by a reporter from The Associated Press.

Bishop Charles Ellis chats with Ariana Grande after her performance at the funeral for Aretha Franklin at the Greater Grace Temple on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan (Scott Olson/Getty)

“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast. … I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her,” he told the news agency at the cemetery where Franklin was interred, adding: “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologise.”

He also apologised specifically for the joke about Grande’s name to the singer, her fans and the Hispanic community—even though the performer has Italian, not Hispanic roots.

“I personally and sincerely apologise to Ariana and to her fans and to the whole Hispanic community,” Ellis told The Associated Press. “When you’re doing a program for nine hours you try to keep it lively, you try to insert some jokes here and there.”

“The last thing I want to do is to be a distraction to this day. This is all about Aretha Franklin,” he added.