Bishop Charles H. Ellis III has apologized after being criticized for the way he touched Ariana Grande and how he joked about her name at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. On August 31, 2018, the pastor of the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan officiated the funeral.
“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast,” Ellis told the Associated Press. “I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her. Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”
Grande performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the funeral. After the performance, Ellis awkwardly greeted her onstage, likening her to a Taco Bell menu item, which offended her fans and the Hispanic community.
According to Ellis, he personally apologized to Grande, to her fans and to the whole Hispanic community. He told the publication, “When you’re doing a program for nine hours you try to keep it lively, you try to insert some jokes here and there.”
After the funeral, photos of Ellis holding Grande above her waist circulated online. The photos show his fingers pressing against the right side of her chest, which many people consider as groping.
Ellis pointed out that hugging is a common way of showing love at his church and any inappropriate touch during Franklin’s funeral was incidental. He added that he had hugged all of the female and male performers at the funeral.
While many of Grande’s fans have expressed outrage online, she has been mum about the issue. The song she performed at the funeral was a single released by Franklin in September 1967.
Around 4,000 people attended Franklin’s funeral at Greater Grace Temple, which was also the site of the funeral of Rosa Parks in 2005. The white 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse that carried Franklin’s body at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit on August 28, 2018 was the same hearse that carried Parks.
Here is Grande’s performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at Franklin’s funeral: