1. At 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon—a time which was already 30 minutes past the very optimistic target ending time on the agenda for Aretha Franklin’s homegoing—my wife and I left the house during Rev. Jesse Jackson’s speech to buy a mattress for a bed delivered to us the day before.
When we returned two whole-ass hours later after buying a whole-ass mattress, I joked about turning the TV back on to see if the funeral was still airing.
“Of course not” I thought to myself, as I clutched the remote, assuming perhaps that Baby Boy—which I think BET is contractually obligated to air once every seven hours—would be on instead.
Nope. It was Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. (much, much, much, much, much, much more on him later) delivering the eulogy, and he’d apparently just gotten started. Which meant they still needed to get through him, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Holliday. Wow.
When the story of this day is told years from now—and trust me, this will be regarded as one of the most epic live performance-based events in American history—the sheer and utter length of the funeral will still be its biggest star. Instead of “Where were you at and what were you doing?” when Aretha’s homecoming happened, the question people will ask each other will be “How many breaks did you take?”
2. In an recurring occurrence that surprised absolutely no one who’s ever stepped foot into a black church, in an event featuring superstars such as Ariana Grande, Faith Hill, Chaka Khan, and the still singular Stevie Wonder, the gospel singers stole the show. The Clark Sisters killed it, Marvin Sapp resurrected it, and Pastor Shirley Caeser killed it again.
By the time Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson sang—who both put their entire foot in their performances, btw (and in Fantasia’s case, she did it literally)—there just wasn’t much left to kill. The elders handled it already.
3. You know how at black functions sometimes there’s a white woman (“Jane”) there who’s married to an uncle or a cousin or something, and she’s actually really nice and sweet and everyone likes her, so no one’s too critical when she brings her yam-and-peanut-butter casserole, because everyone knows she’s sincerely trying really hard to fit in? Well, Faith Hill’s performance was Jane’s casserole. Bless her heart.
4. Much has already been said about Ariana Grande’s choice of attire (which was inappropriate for the event, but the same way it would have been if she wore a fireman’s uniform), her performance, the way the men on stage seemed to be gawking at her, and Bishop Charles H. Ellis III’s condescending (and racist) joke about her while clutching and pulling a clearly uncomfortable Ariana closer to him. It was, for lack of a better term, gross.
The disgust people felt with Ellis’ act was so quick and vehement that he offered a tepid apology for it while at the cemetery. Although he said “I hug all the female artists and the male artists” in his apology, I doubt the truth of that. He had the power of the pulpit, and he used it to put her in what he believed to be her place. This, in a nutshell, is what rape culture is and does.
That said, I do wonder if the perfectly justified and appropriate outrage would have been as swift if he’d done that to someone who wasn’t as popular and traditionally pretty and small and light-skinned as Ariana Grande is. Actually, I lied. I don’t have to wonder. I know that if she were someone darker or heavier or less aligned with Western beauty standards, the level of rebuke wouldn’t have been the same. Of course, I’m not saying that Ariana Grande shouldn’t have had so many people upset for her. Just that black women and girls should get it, too.
5. 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.
Still, some of the men who spoke brought their A-games, including Michael Eric Dyson, who took a break from filming the service for Instagram Live to go Full Thesaurus with his condemnation of Trump.
6. I was going to devote an entire blog later today to Cicely Tyson’s hat. I had an angle in mind, a list thought out, and an idea of the pictures I wanted to use. Unfortunately, I will not have time for that, because Cicely Tyson’s hat and I actually have a date tonight, and I need to go to the barbershop, and I wouldn’t disrespect Cicely Tyson’s hat by showing up to our first date all wolfy and scruffy.
Also, I’ve heard from friends of Cicely Tyson’s hat that Cicely Tyson’s hat really likes mussels, so I have a few places in mind. Wish me luck!
7. I THOUGHT WE WERE DONE WITH THE CLINTONS? I KNOW TRUMP WINNING SUCKS ASS BUT I THOUGHT AT LEAST IT MEANT WE WERE DONE NOW WITH BILL AND HILLARY (MOSTLY BILL) BUT NOW I GOTTA WATCH ARETHA FRANKLIN’S FUNERAL AND SEE THIS THIRSTY BLOCKHEADED MOTHERFUCKER PULLING UP SPOTIFY? I DID NOT ORDER THE “BILL CLINTON” WITH THIS MEAL. I’VE HAD IT ENOUGH ALREADY AND I THINK I’M DONE EATING IT FOREVER. PLEASE WAITER COME AND SEND IT BACK!
8. Getting back to the professionalism of the gospel performers—although the event ran um, late, the Clark Sisters were allotted five minutes, and their performance took five minutes. Bishop Sapp was allotted seven minutes, and he took five minutes. Shirley Caesar was allotted four minutes for her performance, and she took five minutes.
I can’t imagine performing in a more pressure-filled environment than the nationally televised homegoing for Aretha Franklin. Along with it being an emotional day, the singers mostly sang either gospel songs (which are hard as fuck) or Aretha songs (which are Aretha songs), so it’s hard to be too critical of some of the more underwhelming performances (Including Chaka Khan using a cheat sheet like an eighth grader taking a chemistry pop quiz.). But it’s no coincidence that the tried-and-true church performers stuck to the script.
9. There has never been a bigger turd in a sweeter punch bowl than Jasper Williams Jr. What he said during the eulogy wasn’t just inappropriate. It was violent and evil. I tweeted something yesterday comparing it to Bill Cosby’s infamous Pound Cake speech, but considering the circumstance, this was even worse. It was so bad that the name Jasper—which, let’s be honest, was already an “eh” name—has forever been ruined. “Oh, I don’t fuck with dude. He’s a Jasper-ass nigga” is now a telling and illuminative insult. He Adolf-ed Jasper.
Also, while I’m lucky enough to attend a church in Pittsburgh where the pastor and the pastor’s wife are progressive, I know that’s not everyone’s church experience. Maybe there aren’t men like Jasper Williams Jr. leading every church, but there are churches led by men like Jasper Williams Jr. in every black community. And while he blamed black-on-black crime on single motherhood and single motherhood on us moving away from the church, the true enemies in our communities are the Jasper-ass niggas wielding power. Some do it at church and on the pulpit; others do it at cookouts and on the couch — oblivious to the destruction they cause; content and fat as long as the ring is kissed.
10. Just as the span of Aretha Franklin’s career told the intersecting stories of the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, Motown, rock ‘n roll, soul music, pop music, black culture, black America, and America, her homegoing told the story of the black church. There has never been a better and greater and more accurate synopsis of the smelting of beauty and majesty and history and messy and ugly that happens in our pews each Sunday. Aretha Franklin’s funeral was, fittingly, the Aretha Franklin of funerals.