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Billy Masters
by Billy Masters
2018-09-05

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"When I saw Ariana Grande on the program, I thought that was something at Taco Bell!" — Bishop Charles H. Ellis, who presided over Aretha Franklin's funeral, shares his thoughts on Miss Grande after her performance—a comment that was criticized on social media as racist. Ellis was forced to apologize for groping Grande—touching her breast very clearly during his interaction with the star.

ATTENTION ALL MEDIA OUTLETS: Can you please get your shit together? I hate to start off like this, but it's really getting out of control. First, Fox News used a photo of Patti LaBelle in its tribute to Aretha Franklin. And then, the BBC used a photo of Jenifer Lewis!!! Y'all, Jenifer's like a generation younger than Aretha. Come on—all Black people do not look alike. Next you'll say all gay people look alike—and I swear to you THAT'S not true.

The confusion stemmed from Jenifer's performance at the Aretha tribute concert that took place on the eve of the funeral. Accompanied by the prodigious Marc Shaiman, Lewis sang a self-penned composition, "Thank You, Aretha." Standing under the illuminated "Aretha" sign, the Brits simply got confused ... as they are wont to do. But there was no confusing Jen's sentiment, as you'll see on BillyMasters.com .

Prior to Jenifer, people watching the concert at home saw Patti LaBelle sing a teary rendition of "You Are My Friend." Except, she didn't. Sure, she sang it ... at a concert at the Dell Music Center in Philadelphia a week earlier. They simply filmed it and rolled it into the tribute concert, and most of the home viewers were none the wiser. That's what I'm here for.

Then there was the funeral. Thank God I was watching from home. I was able to put it on pause, go out to eat, watch a little more, take a nap, etc. Poor Bill Clinton looked like he was gonna pass out. Many people commented on Rev. Jesse Jackson's distressed appearance. In case you don't know, late last year he announced that he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's. So, I attribute it to that. Some of the people who didn't come, sent flowers. Folks like Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sir Elton John, Mariah Carey and Diana Ross all sent enormous tributes.

Me-oh-my-oh—that was SOME hat on Miss Cicely Tyson! For much of the service, I wasn't even sure there was someone under it! But, God love her, the 91-year-old legend launched into a freewheeling adaptation of Paul Laurence Dunbar's "When Malindy Sings," rechristened, "When Aretha Sings." Then there was Chaka Khan, who I thought was wearing a choir robe ... or two. In case you were wondering, her fan had dual purpose—it not only kept her cool, but also had the lyrics to "Going Up Yonder" printed on the back! A very tasteful and appropriate Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Aretha with "Amazing Grace," further cementing her position as Franklin's appointed portrayer for the proposed biopic. Fantasia kicked off her shoes and stalked the stage with "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Stevie Wonder was the penultimate act, with "As," backed by Shirley Murdock, Dottie Peoples, Angie Stone and, wait, once again, Miss Jenifer Lewis wailing "Always." After that, Jennifer Holliday ended the ceremony with "Climbing Higher Mountains" as the casket was taken out of the church.

I believe the whole "show" ( for lack of a better term ) was stolen by Gladys Knight, who sang rings around everyone with "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." ( You can never hear that enough times. ) But she inadvertently caused quite a bit of gossip. On her way into the funeral, she revealed that she met with Aretha about a year earlier. Gladys said, "At that time, we shared the fact that we had the same disease." So, it wasn't a stretch that most people thought Knight revealed she, too, has pancreatic cancer. ( She does look quite thin. ) In a statement she released later that day, she said, "I'd like to clarify that Aretha and I discussed both of us having cancer, mine was stage 1 breast cancer and hers was pancreatic. Due to early detection, I am cancer-free and grateful for that." She also chastised the media for spending time gossiping about her—especially on a day where we should be "celebrating Aretha's life and massive contributions to our world."

The next day, we had John McCain's funeral—more notable for people who were not there ( or purposely banned ) than for those who were. I will say it did my heart good to see Laura Bush hand Michelle Obama a piece of candy—talk about reaching across the aisle! However, one gesture left me a bit cold. Is it acceptable in the Episcopal tradition for a reverend to take a selfie? First, do reverends typically carry their cellphones during a service, let alone a funeral? Secondly, isn't it at least a little rude to ask George W. for a selfie when Obama is standing right next to you? Reminds me of when I ran into Joanna Cassidy at the Emmys, but I'll save that for another time.

Apparently, JC Mounduix ( the gay little person on Big Brother who go-go dances ) is involved in yet another scandal. According to eagle-eyed watchers of the 24/7 feed, he was seen rubbing a sleeping Tyler Crispen's arms and kissing his armpits. JC claims he was trying to comfort Tyler, who was having nightmares. Many called for his removal from the show. The producers, clearly trying to avoid another ice cream scooper incident, were quick to respond: "We spoke with all three of the houseguests separately in detail about the incidents. Tyler and Haleigh explained to the producers that they in no way felt threatened, unsafe or sexually harassed." For the time being, JC ( and the entire Moonves family ) can keep their jobs!

Lastly, we hear that the Venice Film Festival premiere of Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga, was interrupted when a freak lightning storm caused a power outage. Damn, Barbra's powerful!

When a star is born while others pass away, it's time to end another column. Even though we're ending another season, the gossip's just heating up at BillyMasters.com—the site that never takes a vacation. We didn't have room for an "Ask Billy" question, but I'm here for you 24/7. Send your queries along to Billy@BillyMasters.com and I promise to get back to you before Taco Bell introduces the Ariana Grande Chalupa! Until next time, remember: One man's filth is another man's bible.


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