Lack of “Respect” at Aretha Franklin’s Funeral

Singer's funeral overshadowed by controversy

Pamela Picerno, Contributing Writer

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Aretha Franklin, beloved for songs like “Respect” and “Chain of Fools,” died on August 16 of pancreatic cancer. Her funeral was intended to be a celebration of the American icon’s incredibly long and celebrated career. However, it missed the mark slightly with the controversies it caused.

        The funeral was set to be extremely star-studded, with celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Smokey Robinson performing musical tributes within the five and a half hour long ceremony. The African-American culture website, “Very Smart Brothas,” predicted that the funeral might last for four or five more hours, calling it “the most optimistic funeral schedule ever created.”

        The trouble started when platinum-certified singer Ariana Grande, who was a longtime fan of Franklin, performed “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” What should have been a perfect musical tribute was rudely interrupted by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III. He joined Grande after her performance and informed the audience that after seeing her name on the program, he thought she was “something new at Taco Bell.” He then put his arm around Grande’s upper waist, with one hand touching her breast.

        Immediately, the Internet exploded. Some thought Ellis had just been being friendly and blamed Grande for the interaction because she had been wearing a short, low-cut dress. However, most seemed to agree that what the bishop did was unwelcome and definitely a case of sexual harassment. The next day, Ellis apologized for “crossing the border” and stated that “it would never be [his] intention to touch any woman’s breast.”

        This was not the only fiasco of the funeral, however. Aretha Franklin’s family was greatly displeased by the eulogy given by the Reverend Jasper Williams, Jr. According to CNN, Williams’ eulogy focused mainly on the problems of black America. He denounced the Black Lives Matter movement, telling his audience that “black lives must not matter until black people start respecting black lives and stop killing ourselves.” He stated that through her songs, Aretha Franklin was calling on her race to come together.

        Vaughn Franklin, Aretha’s nephew, was furious at this apparently unexpected turn of events. He accused the Reverend of not focusing on Aretha at all and using her funeral to push his “negative agenda.” Williams apologized the next day, saying he didn’t mean that black lives didn’t matter; he wanted to emphasize the problems of black-on-black violence. Despite his apology, he said he believed Aretha Franklin would have approved of the eulogy because he was “doing something to turn black America around.”