Funeral services and celebration of life events are often marked with special music to remember a loved one who has passed away. These songs often have special meaning to the family and friends who were left behind, but many also have a special meaning to those who wrote them. Here are six famous funeral songs and the lesser-known stories behind how they came to be.
“Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
According to an article from ABC News, after finishing a grueling two-year concert tour in 1996, Sarah McLachlan retreated to a cottage to relax and recuperate. While she was there, she read a Rolling Stone article about the overdose death of Smashing Pumpkins keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. In the story, she admitted to understanding his feelings of being lost and lonely, which is what helped her write the song in two days. The song’s message of empathy and comfort has made it a meaningful choice for some people who have lost a loved one.
“Let It Be” by The Beatles
It wasn’t until an episode of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” that Beatles’ legend Paul McCartney discussed the story behind the famous song “Let It Be.” In the episode, he disclosed that he had experienced a dream in which his mother, who had passed away, came to him and told him not worry and to let it be. The experience gave him a tremendous sense of relief, which he explored within the song. With a backstory like that, it’s no wonder that many people find comfort in his words after a loved one has passed away.
“See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth
After the unexpected death of actor Paul Walker in 2013, the “Fast and Furious” movie team quickly moved to create a song to pay tribute to him in “Furious 7,” the next movie in the franchise that originally brought Paul Walker into the spotlight. According to the Los Angeles Times, they contacted more than 50 songwriters to submit their ideas, and ultimately landed on Charlie Puth’s simple piano melody. After combining that chorus with rapper Wiz Khalifa’s verses, they had a pop hit on their hands. Charlie Puth later admitted that his lyrics came from a more personal place. He was thinking of a friend who had died in a car accident, just like Paul Walker. This more modern song of loss resonated with people all over the world, not only as a tribute to the actor, but also as a reminder of loved ones they had lost.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland
Voted the best song of the 20th Century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” became an instant success after its premiere in “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939. Originally sung by Judy Garland, the song was composed Harold Arlen and was meant to exemplify hope, anxiety and the need to escape the real world. These feelings often accompany the loss of a loved one, which is why this song gained popularity in funeral service.
“You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins
It was recently revealed by Phil Collins’ daughter, actress Lily Collins, that the Oscar-winning song from Disney’s “Tarzan” was originally written as a lullaby for his children. Phil Collins was the composer for the 1999 movie, and his daughter says that was his way of giving back to his children. The song is used in the movie as a love note from parent to child, something that many grieving parents can identify with.
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
Written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley in 1982, the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” has become a classic for almost every occasion. It was made famous in 1989 by Better Midler when she sang it in the movie “Beaches.” Larry Henley had created the song title based off of a poem he had written, and the duo created the lyrics in one day. The song was originally meant to be a mid-tempo love song, but after slowing it down to a ballad, they realized how impactful the words were. Jeff Silbar later referred to the song as a way to say thank you to someone important in your life, which is why the tune if often played during times of mourning.
Music is a very powerful way to bring family and friends together. It can also help loved ones express feelings they may otherwise have had a hard time conveying. There are thousands of songs that can be played at funerals, and this list is by no means extensive. Do you have a memorial or funeral song that is particularly meaningful to you? Let us know in the comments below.