Ariana Grande had just belted out one of Aretha Franklin’s signature hits at the Queen of Soul’s funeral Friday, a moving rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” that prompted officiating pastor Charles H. Ellis III to call the young singer onstage to honor her as “an icon herself.”
But it’s a remark that came before that — and what some have described as too-familiar touching from a much older man — that has Ellis apologizing to the singer, an army of her outraged fans and the Hispanic community.
“I’ve got to apologize because I have to brush up,” he said shortly after calling Grande back to the podium. “My 28-year-old daughter tells me, ‘Dad, you are old at 60.’ When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell. Girl, let me give you all your respect.”
As he joked about the young singer, who is Italian American, he wrapped his hand around her, high above her waist in an act many are calling groping.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, Ellis, the pastor of the 6,000-member Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, apologized.
“I personally and sincerely apologize 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.”
He told the AP that any inappropriate touch was incidental and that he had hugged all the performers, male and female. Hugging, he said, is a common way of showing love at his church.
“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, adding: “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar, but again, I apologize.”
But for many, the apology was not enough. They held up the touching as a public display of what routinely happens to female artists in the #MeToo era.
“I think every woman can look at Ariana Grande’s face and body language and viscerally feel what she’s feeling. The tension. The nervous laughter. Not wanting to make a scene or make him angry. Every woman knows this feeling,” New York Times reporter Maggie Astor tweeted. “But google her and everyone’s talking about her dress.”
And many said the affront was not the only one Grande endured during her brief time onstage.
Some on social media questioned the singer’s choice to wear a short black dress to the funeral, a decision some deemed disrespectful.
Publicly, Grande has been quiet on the matter. She could not be immediately reached for comment on Saturday.
But her defenders responded with tweets that included the hashtag #RespectAriana.