The funeral you don’t want is the one where hundreds of people show up, and lots of your peers, even older mentors, are in attendance.
But Natalie Cole’s send off at West Angeles Church on Monday morning (and afternoon) was just like that, because was only 65 years old when she passed away last week, and a vibrant personality and performer.
In the front rows at the nearly three hour service were a gaggle of heavyweights: Stevie Wonder (who told me he was getting over the flu), Smokey Robinson, Johnny Mathis. Chaka Khan was seated across the aisle, and was introduced to the crowd by one of the clergy. She stood and waved. Gladys Knight, Mary Wilson, and Freda Payne along with her sister Scherrie, were part of the gathering.
Elsewhere in the audience, which was packed, I spotted Linda Thompson, mother of record David Foster’s children and his ex wife. Foster gave one of the eulogies during the ceremony; he’d been with Natalie on tour in Asia when she fell ill. They made one last stop in the Hamptons at a charity benefit, where I saw them, and it was clear that Natalie was ailing.
Curiously, though Foster spoke he wasn’t listed in the beautiful program we received upon entering West Angeles Church. The two tributes by non family members were supposed to be by Cole’s business manager of 31 years, Howard Grossman, and her dear friend Tamara Engelstein. They each spoke beautifully. Smokey Robinson– despite a sinus infection– also delivered a few thoughts, and Stevie Wonder played the harmonica and sang a bit.
At the outset, Dr. Melvin V. Wade, pastor of West Angeles, warned that the service would adhere to the printed program exactly, and there would be no digressions. Just FYI.
But the service, while long, was beautiful, with musical interludes from members of Natalie’s band and eulogies from her younger twin sisters and son Robert Yancy. Robert also joined the band and played drums on a gospel number.
The stage, by the way, was decorated with dozens and dozens of white roses, Natalie’s favorite. Several church dignitaries were seated onstage but didn’t speak, including Rev. Jesse Jackson. Unable to attend was Natalie’s long time friend, Denise Rich. Nikki Haskell, representing herself and Clive Davis, was front and center. Two New York pals of Natalie, Marvet Britto and Jimmy Hester, helped with the details and planning.
A reception dinner planned for tonight in Beverly Hills.
I have no inside info, but I’ll bet Ken Ehrlich is planning a Grammy tribute to Natalie even as we speak. And one of course to David Bowie. Two superstars gone in one week, each still in their 60s. Huge, huge losses.