The bishop officiating at Aretha Franklin’s funeral on Friday (local time) has apologised to singer Ariana Grande for touching her inappropriately onstage and for a joke he made about her name.
Bishop Charles Ellis led Franklin’s funeral and awkwardly greeted Grande on stage after she performed (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
On Saturday, mainstream media and social media showed images of the moment Ellis held Grande well above her waist with his fingers pressing against one side of her chest, as she leaned away from him somewhat awkwardly.
— BreatheHeavy (@breatheheavycom) August 31, 2018
The preacher apologised in an interview with The Associated Press at the cemetery where Franklin was buried.
“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast … I don’t know, I guess I put my arm around her,” Ellis said.
“Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologise.”
He said he hugged all the performers during Friday’s eight-hour service.
“I hug all the female artists and the male artists,” Ellis said.
“Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love.”
The bishop said the “last thing” he wanted to do was cause a distraction at an event that was “all about” Aretha Franklin.
Many people posted close-up images of the moment on Twitter, tagging it with the hashtag #RespectAriana.
Ellis also apologised to Grande, her fans and the Hispanic community for making a joke about seeing her name on the program and thinking it was a new item on the Taco Bell menu.
“I personally and sincerely apologise to Ariana and to her fans and to the whole Hispanic community,” Ellis said. “When you’re doing a program for nine hours you try to keep it lively, you try to insert some jokes here and there.”
Ellis’ touching of Grande overshadowed some of the criticism levelled at Grande herself for wearing an ultra-short dress during her performance, while some on Twitter and Facebook have argued women have a right to wear whatever they like without being harassed.
Ariana Grande’s ponytail is longer than her dress. #ArethaFranklinFuneral
— Toni (@TMN3218) August 31, 2018
Jennifer Hudson in funeral chic. Take note Ariana Grande. This is how you dress for a Black funeral, not like you going to da club. #ArethaHomegoing
— Linda Bain (@LindaBain) August 31, 2018
I can’t believe Ariana Grande is walking into the house of the lord FOR A FUNERAL in this little ass dress
— E. (@ElayneVirginia) August 31, 2018
Social media users also called out former US president Bill Clinton who appeared to look Grande up and down repeatedly from behind in video footage of her performance.
— 24/7 HipHop News (@BenjaminEnfield) August 31, 2018
Grande’s representative has not commented to the media since the incident came to light.