Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle gathered along with hundreds of friends, family and fans to pay tribute to R&B legend Luther Vandross at his funeral on Friday.
At the packed Riverside Church, the congregation swayed, clapped and sang along as Vandross’s famous pals crooned one last time for the singer who passed away last week at age 54. Also on hand were Usher, Cissy Houston, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson
In addition to singing, LaBelle read a poem written by the singer’s mother, Mary Ida Vandross, entitled “You Kept Your Promise” about the close relationship Luther and she shared. Luther was the last of Mary Ida’s four kids to pass away. She “buried all her children,” Nat Adderley Jr., Vandross’s longtime musical director told PEOPLE. “She outlived all four of them. I’m so sad for her.”
At Vandross’s wake the day before, LaBelle, who was especially close to the singer, told mourners who were weeping “Let it out, ladies. Let it out.”
Vandross, who sold more than 25 million albums, died July 1, at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, N.J. He’d been in ill-health ever since April 16, 2003, when he suffered a stroke.
His only public appearances since the stroke had been videotaped – once with Oprah and again at last year’s Grammy Awards to accept his trophy for song of the year (the touchingly personal “Dance with My Father”).
“He was such a man of dignity,” said his friend and frequent songwriting partner Richard Marx, who cowrote “Dance with My Father.”
Gracious, witty and impeccably style-conscious – Vandross rarely took to the stage in anything but a tuxedo – he was “just the nicest guy and always sweet and funny as hell,” says R&B producer-singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
Onstage Vandross, who was discovered by David Bowie in 1974 and who sang backup for Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand before breaking out as a solo superstar with ’81’s “Never Too Much,” “just shined,” says Babyface. “His fans loved him, so whenever he’d go out and perform, you’d hear someone scream out, ‘Oh my God!’ It was an amazing thing.”
Vandross is survived by his mother, nine nieces, as well as eight great nephews and three great nieces.