Bishop Charles H. Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple has apologized to pop singer Ariana Grande and her fans for his actions in front of an audience of millions during Aretha Franklin’s funeral on Friday.
After Grande’s performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” as part of Franklin’s memorable daylong homegoing in Detroit, viewers heard Ellis imagine her to be a fast-food menu item before putting his arm around her. As he did so, his fingers appeared to deliberately locate the side of her breast. Within moments, social media lighted up with screen-shots of his hand and Grande’s expression of discomfort in the moment.
On Saturday, the bishop apologized. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar,” he told the Associated Press, adding, “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast.”
Ellis also expressed remorse to “the whole Hispanic community” for the quip he made as he called her onto the stage: “When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell.” He blamed his misstep on the long ceremony. “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 online response to Ellis’ actions was perhaps captured best by Maggie Astor of the New York Times, who wrote, “This clip makes me want to cry. He felt empowered to do this in front of an entire church full of people, on international television, under what he presumably believes are the eyes of God. Almost a year into #MeToo. We’ve come so far, but it feels like we’ve gone nowhere.”