NEW YORK Tyler Perry and Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the attendees at a private memorial service for Cicely Tyson at the famous Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
Gospel singer Bebe Winans performed Stand a request from Tyson before his death and a letter was read by rocker Lenny Kravitz, who was a close friend.
The ceremony was magnificent. It was very Cicely Tyson: it was formal, it was funny, it was sad, it was glorious, said Larry Thompson, Tyson’s manager for over 40 years.
Journalists were not allowed in, but several mourners stopped to share their thoughts afterwards.
Abyssinian Baptist pastor Reverend Calvin O. Butts said Tyson was an example of a life well lived and an example of how we could all live, adding that she was as much an ambassador for peace and l love anyone I can think of. .
He noted that Tyson’s service fell during Black History Month, giving us yet another illustration of some of the great people who have contributed to American arts and culture.
The memorial service took place on Tuesday after hundreds of admirers of the pioneering black actor lined up outside the church for a public screening. Some said they had come from as far as Atlanta or Los Angeles to be there.
During the ceremony, the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature rose above 40 for the first time in the snowy city over a week. His coffin was carried to a hearse by six bearers in ties and white tails.
Tyson passed away on January 28. The New York-born actor was 96 years old.
Faye Wattleton, a reproductive rights activist who had been friends with Tyson for over 30 years, said: She was 96 but we thought she was going to live at least to 100. People like her never really go away. I hope she feels all the love we gave her today.
Also in attendance were Valerie Simpson of the duo Ashford & Simpson, stylist Ellin LaVar and Emmy-nominated choreographer George Faison, who said he knew Tyson through her former husband, Miles Davis.
Now they’re reunited in Heaven and I’m happy to be here to say goodbye to him, Faison said. She was a wonderful woman.
Tyson was the first black woman to have a recurring role in a dramatic television series, the 1963 drama East Side, West Side. Her performance as the wife of a sharecropper in the 1972 film Sounder cemented her stardom and earned her an Oscar nomination.
She went on to win two Emmy Awards for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.
At 88, Tyson won a Tony Award for Reviving Horton Footes The Trip to Bountiful in 2013. President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Joseph Joubart played the piano during the service and said it was a moment he will never forget. It was a truly moving experience and a tribute to what a great lady she was an icon, a legend.
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