NEW YORK — Fans, friends and family came from around the world over the past three days to pay their respects to the late Luther Vandross. The singing legend died one week ago and, following a two-day wake, was laid to rest Friday.
Usher, Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle, Ashford & Simpson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick were among the thousands inside Riverside Church in Harlem. The church was filled to capacity shortly after the service began at noon and hundreds were turned away at the door. Still, most of those people stayed outside and waited across the street from the church until the funeral was done.
“I would have loved to get into the funeral, but being here is more than enough,” said Sharon Sledge, 49, of Manhattan. She and her mother, Gloria, had waited for an hour in the rain but were unsuccessful in getting in. “He gave so much to his fans, so how could I not come? I don’t care if was a snowstorm, I still would have taken off from work and come. He was the greatest singer I’ve ever heard.”
Inside, fellow legends like LaBelle and Franklin shared loving memories of Luther (see “Alicia Keys, Ruben Studdard, Mya Remember Luther Vandross” ) and, of course, did what they do best. Aretha belted out “Amazing Grace” with enough fire that you would’ve thought she was at her last concert. LaBelle sang “No Ways Tired,” and Wonder crooned “I Can’t Complain.” Toward the end of the funeral, many of the singers in attendance joined together for one of Vandross’ most revered records, “Power of Love/ Love Power,” in a joyous celebration of life.
“It’s a sad day, but it’s also a happy day,” 37-year-old Johnny McMillan said outside. “He gave us so many great years that all we can do is be grateful for the time he was here.
“I know at least one or two of my kids might not be here if it weren’t for Luther,” he added, testifying to the power of Vandross’ love songs. “There will never be another Luther. We love you!”
“I remember meeting Luther after one of his concerts,” 68-year-old Lynette Washington of Brooklyn said. “He was just so friendly and humble. So many stars have tremendous talent, but when you meet them, they think they’re all that. Not only was Luther talented, he was a genuine person.”
Washington, like so many others, had also attended the wake viewings on Wednesday and Thursday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel. Outside of the chapel, people sang their favorite Luther hits. The tears were sparse among the fans, many of whom held homemade posters with messages like “Luther 4 Ever” and “I Love You Luther.” Others wore T-shirts with the legend’s face on the front and back.
Some of Vandross’ famous loved ones, including LaBelle, Roberta Flack and Cicely Tyson, attended earlier in the week. On Friday, before the funeral, a procession drove through Harlem and a car carrying his casket passed by the Apollo Theater for a final hurrah in front of his supporters.
Vandross died at 54 of complications from a stroke (see “R&B Singer Luther Vandross Dead At 54″ ), and the eight-time Grammy winner will undoubtedly be remembered as one R&B’s greatest singers and — judging by the turnout the past three days — one of the most adored.