The songs played at funeral services and memorial ceremonies can say lot about the person we loved, or the things they wanted us to remember them by. And that’s no different for the stars, when it comes to their own funeral music.
Many traditional funeral hymns are timeless, but contemporary songs from stage, screen, Billboard chart and Grand Ole Opry are also among the top funeral songs today. Some of us may find spiritual meaning within a beautiful funeral song, while for others, the lyrics echo the story of a life, or raise a smile in loving memory.
Here, we take a look at the poignant funeral hymns, country songs for funerals and sometimes surprising pieces of music chosen for the celebrity funerals of 10 famous names.
Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who joined the church’s brethren in 2003. He was cremated shortly after his death, April 21, 2016, and a memorial was held at his private estate, Paisley Park.
An invitation-only memorial service was later held at his regular place of worship, the Kingdom Hall in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
He Will Call and See Yourself When All is New were the funeral hymns sung by mourners at Prince’s memorial ceremony, while lyrics from his own song, Beautiful, Loved and Blessed were quoted in the memorial program.
Film star Elizabeth Taylor kept everyone waiting and arrived fashionably late by 15 minutes at her own funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, according to her wishes.
Held just two days after her death in March 2011, around a dozen close family and friends attended Elizabeth Taylor’s funeral service. It included a trumpet performance of one of the most beautiful funeral songs, which she loved, Amazing Grace, played by her grandson Rhys Tivey.
At a private memorial service held in the actress’s honor at the Steven J. Ross Theater in Burbank later that year, Elton John paid tribute to her by playing his song, Blue Eyes.
Uplifting hymns and meaningful songs by popular artists played an important part of the Mass of Christian Burial to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of former Vice President Joe Biden’s dear son, Beau Biden, in 2015.
He was bid farewell at a funeral mass celebrated in the presence of religious leaders of different faiths at St. Anthony of Padua church in Wilmington, Delaware.
Among the traditional funeral hymns sung during the service were Ave Maria, Amazing Grace, Here is our Praise and Be Not Afraid. The stirring Bring Him Home, from musical Les Miserables, was chosen as the politician and former Army officer’s moving entrance hymn, while another contemporary classic, Time to Say Goodbye, was chosen for its meaningful sentiment – a beautiful modern funeral song.
Coldplay’s Til Kingdom Come was given special meaning, as the band’s frontman, Chris Martin, sang it to honor Beau, whose funeral culminated with the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Actress Meryl Streep led mourners in song at the memorial held to remember actress Carrie Fisher. The private memorial held in the living room of Fisher’s own home was attended by around 125 family and friends including Meg Ryan, Richard Dreyfuss, George Lucas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tracey Ullman.
The celebration of her life was rounded off by Meryl striking up a rendition of Carrie’s favorite song, Happy Days Are Here Again, with the other guests joining in. The song featured in the 1930 film, Chasing Rainbows and the tune was used at the weekly theme on Your Hit Parade, from 1935 to 1955.
President John F. Kennedy
The nation was in deep mourning, with the music at President Kennedy’s reflecting the solemnity and significance of his funeral day on November 25, 1963.
Three military bands played, as President Kennedy’s cortege proceeded from the Capitol, to the White House, to the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle in Washington.
O God of Loveliness, Holy, Holy, Holy and Onward Christian Soldiers were among the hymns played, along with funeral marches by the Beethoven, R.B. Hall and Chopin.
At the White House, the Naval Academy Catholic Choir sang Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming, also known as the Londonderry Air, and the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save.
Choral music during the President’s funeral mass included Pie Jesu, Ave Maria, and the Gregorian Subvenite, while the Air Force Pipers played Celtic folksong Mist Covered Mountain at Arlington Cemetery, where the President was laid to rest.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor’s long and glamorous life was honored at a Catholic funeral mass attended by around 100 mourners at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.
Among the hymns sung were Amazing Grace and the beautiful Ave Maria, both among the most popular funeral songs. The 99-year old star’s ashes were placed in a gold box for the funeral ceremony, surrounded by long-stemmed pink roses.
Chester L. Roberts/ commons.wikimedia.org
One of country music’s biggest names, where else more fitting than Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for celebrating the life of George Jones, the legend who began his career as Grand Ole Opry’s New Star way back in 1956.
During his celebration of life memorial, stars paid musical tribute to the legendary singer, who died aged 81 in May 2013. Patty Loveless duetted on Vince Gill’s heartrending Go Rest High on That Mountain, one of America’s most enduringly popular country songs for funerals since it became a hit in 1994.
Randy Travis sang Amazing Grace, among the nation’s top funeral songs and which Jones himself had once sung and left audiences spellbound by. Kid Rock played one of his own songs in tribute to George, Best of Me. Alan Jackson, who credited George as one of his biggest musical influences, played one of Jones’ biggest hits, He Stopped Loving Her Today. A week after the funeral, it re-entered the hot country songs charts again.
Fans turned up in their thousands to pay their respects outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, on the day of Whitney Houston’s emotional funeral in 2012.
Gospel singer Donnie McClurken performed his deeply spiritual song, Stand, by the Houston’s family’s request, while Bebe Winans sang a heartfelt rendition of I Really Miss You.
Singer and pastor Kim Burrell sang a personalized version of A Change Is Going To Come, while Alicia Keys reworked the lyrics of Send Me an Angel to sing Whitney is an Angel. Stevie Wonder chose to play Ribbons in The Sky.
As Whitney’s coffin was carried from the church, her own timeless hit, I Will Always Love You, was played – a bittersweet and poignant reminder of the star, who was aged just 48 when she died. Across the world, it has become one of the most popular modern funeral songs.
Around 900 people who counted themselves as fans as well as friends of comedian Garry Shandling, attended his memorial service at historic Los Angeles theater the Wilshire Ebell, in April 2016.
During the three-hour memorial service there were tributes and speeches, as well as warm words from a Buddhist monk, who praised how Shandling had come to embrace the faith.
Singer Ryan Adams performed a version of his ballad My Wrecking Ball, backed by a host of musicians including actor Johnny Depp.
Although there was no shortage of jokes related by friends paying tribute to the TV funny-man, comedian Adam Sandler said his goodbye touchingly (and earnestly) in song. He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, as he sang George Harrison song Give Me Love (Peace on Earth).
Alan Light/Eva Rinaldi/CreativeCommons
Muppet Show creator Jim Henson was honored with memorial services held at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1990. Both were open to the public, with one stipulation – don’t wear black.
A medley of his favorite songs, were performed – as you’ve rarely heard them before – by the talented team who gave voice to our favorite Muppet characters. Songs that featured in the crazy 15-minute long arrangement included Baby Face, It’s in Every One of Us (To Be Wise), You Are My Sunshine and songs made famous in the Muppet Show, Halfway Down the Stairs and If Just One Person (Believes In You).
In New York, Harry Belafonte sang Turn the World Around and the memorial service ended with a rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In. Jim’s London memorial attended by his widow, Jane and four of their children, began with a traditional church choir singing All Creatures of Our God and King.
- For more inspiration, have a look at our favourite gospel music for funerals, classical funeral music and contemporary christian funeral songs.