There were many moving moments during Aretha Franklin’s eight-hour funeral in Detroit that were testimony to the stunning legacy that the Queen of Soul left behind. But amongst the touching gestures, performances by music icons, and speeches from luminaries, there were also a number of contentious moments.
Here are the major controversies still raging days after the event:
After Grande’s rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” pastor Charles H. Ellis III pulled her to the podium and likened her name to a Taco Bell menu item, before praising her performance. As the internet was quick to zero in on with closeups of the video, Ellis’ hand was uneasily close to Grande’s breast the entire time, and her evident discomfort was unfortunately familiar to women everywhere.
Ellis has since owned up to being “too friendly,” but as David Gershgorn wrote for Quartzy, the pastor’s statement falls short of being a true apology, as he tries to defend his actions rather than own up to them.
(Grande’s short black dress had also drawn some criticism and raised eyebrows, but it’s hard to imagine that the stylish Queen of Soul would have admonished anyone, let alone a young woman, for her fashion choices.)
In his much-criticized eulogy, Reverend Jasper Williams Jr. appeared to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement; suggest that single black mothers are incapable of raising sons alone; and blame black people for “killing ourselves.” Some in the audience also noted that not much of the speech was about Franklin herself.
Williams, who also delivered the eulogy for Franklin’s father, has since defended his words, but the Franklin family has said that they found the eulogy “offensive and distasteful,” and that Williams “used this platform to push his negative agenda, which as a family, we do not agree with.”
As Damon Young of the Root pointed out, men dominated the event:
Although Aretha Franklin’s homegoing was a recognition of an activist and feminist icon, the people with the prime seats on the stage were men. The majority of the speakers were men, and their words took most of the space. The proceedings were led by a man. And yet, each time the camera panned to the audience, I saw mostly women there. Basically, from my spot on my couch in my living room in Pittsburgh, the optics of the homegoing were wrong for Aretha and right for the black church.
While each of these controversies speaks to fundamental and important issues, many have expressed a hope that they don’t overshadow the positive moments from an eight-hour funeral service that was a true celebration of Franklin’s remarkable life.
There were too many moving tributes to count, far outnumbering the controversies: the 100 pink Cadillacs outside the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit; California representative Maxine Waters’ “Wakanda Forever” salute; and Crisette Ellis’s opening remarks about Franklin’s music as the “soundtrack of our lives,” to name just a few.
As the controversies fade, Franklin’s legacy, and her music, will endure.