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November 13, 2019 Beyond The Dash

The Top 5 Gospel Songs for a Funeral

Music for a soulful final send-off

The Top 5 Gospel Songs for a Funeral
These classic gospel songs can lift the spirits of mourners on even the darkest of days. (Getty Images)

Choosing the right songs is an important — and time-consuming — part of a funeral. There are thousands of beautiful gospel songs that would be appropriate to play or sing at the funeral of a loved one. In this article, we will look at five of the most uplifting songs to play at a funeral.

A southern fusion of religion and culture

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music that has evolved far beyond worship. The word 'gospel' means 'good news', and this genre of music is characterized by its feel-good style. 

Dating back to the late 1800s, gospel is a Southern tradition rooted in African-American culture. This music fuses hymns, soul, and musical participation in the form of clapping, stomping and call-and-response singing. Christianity and worship are major themes in this kind of music, and it is used in a variety of religious settings for praise and community building. 

Funerals have long carried the tradition of musical gospel praise. A celebration of life is a type of funeral that focuses on the deceased person's entry to heaven, rather than the loss of their life. Gospel music is often played at a celebration of life, and participation by the congregation is generally encouraged.

While it's difficult to narrow down the list of gospel songs to just five, you can use this list as a starting point if you are unsure what to play at a funeral. These five gospel tunes are appropriate for the funeral of a person who loved life, and God. 

Gospel music is participatory. Involving mourners in the funeral music can make for a memorable service. (Getty Images)

1. "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There" — Jennifer Hudson 

Jennifer Hudson's version of the 1908 hymn "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There" serves up her impressive vocals with a side of southern gospel piano.

Comforting, powerful, emotional and soulful, it perfectly captures the traditional gospel style while remaining completely appropriate for  the funerary genre. Hudson's rendition of a traditional hymn tops this list with a perfect blend of old and new, mourning and celebration:

There’s a place in heav’n prepared for me,

When the toils of this life are o’er;

Where the saints, robed in white, shall forever be,

Singing praises forevermore.

The perfect funeral song gives mourners the opportunity to explore their emotions in a community environment. Because music can be interpreted so differently by everyone, there's no going wrong with a song that is simple, sad and true. 

2. "Trouble of the World" — Mahalia Jackson

"Trouble of the World" is likely the most mournful funerary tune on this list. Mahalia Jackon's low, contralto voice has been described as "one of those voices that renders your own silent." As the title suggests, this song is not a celebration of life, but a celebration that eventually death brings an end to pain and struggle on earth: 

I'll soon! will be done!

With the trouble of the world

I'm going home to live! with god!

It's an appropriate tribute for those who believe that death is a "homecoming" for good Christians. Play this song for its vocal power, and give your funeral guests a chance to mourn deeply. 


3. "God Will Take Care of You" — Aretha Franklin

"God Will Take Care of You" was originally written in 1904. Aretha Franklin covered the time-honored hymn in 1972. It's bluesy, soulful and uplifting. 

Aretha's rendition is nearly nine minutes long, with more than half of the song beating along at slow, sad pace. But a jaunty piano interlude brings the listener to the call-and-response portion of the song, where Aretha really cuts loose vocally. Moving from sadness to joy, it's a worship song that covers the gamut of emotions of mourners at a funeral

In times of trouble, knowing God will take care of you is a comforting thought, and this is especially true at a funeral. In grief, it can feel like living is no longer worth the pain, but there's strength in keeping the faith: 

Through your trials and through your storms,

When it seems you can't hold on,

Trouble is on ever side, cried so much you just can't cry no more.

They can talk about you, laugh about you, say that it's over,

But it's not over until God says it's over.


4. "Oh Happy Day" — Edwin Hawkins Singers

In keeping with the celebration of life theme found in most gospel funeral songs, "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers revels in a homecoming:

Oh happy day (oh happy day)

Oh happy day (oh happy day)

When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)

When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)

When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)

He washed my sins away (oh happy day).

When a Christian dies, their sins are washed away by Jesus. This classic gospel hymn rejoices in the wholeness that will happen on judgment day. Though this is one of the more lively songs on this list, the meaning is serious. In a funeral atmosphere, it's a reminder that death is not the end of the soul. Rather, it's the beginning of a new life in heaven. 

5. "Amazing Grace" — Soweto Gospel Choir 

"Amazing Grace" is the quintessential funeral song. It is a Christian hymn that was first written in 1779, and has become the go-to standard for funeral music: 

Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind but now I see

Was blind but now I see

Again, themes of being saved by God in death form the basis of this hymn. The Soweto Gospel Choir's rendition is one of the most powerful you will hear, and is a perfect tribute for a loved one who has recently passed. 

This song has been covered time and again by many influential artists. If the Soweto Gospel Choir's stunning version is not the right style for the funeral you are planning, Mahalia Jackson, Al Green, the Harlem Gospel Choir, Whitney Houston and Destiny's Child have recorded versions that are suitable for a funeral. 

Choosing funeral music  

The right song can send shivers down the spines of mourners, comforting and moving them as they navigate fresh grief. The wrong song could be interpreted as disrespectful, or tone deaf to the needs of the family and person being honored. 

Unfortunately, the days leading up to a funeral are busy for the grieving family that suddenly finds themselves planning a funeral. Families that automatically know which songs to play at a loved one's funeral should go with their intuition. Those who don't have an inkling about music yet may face hours of listening and deciding. It's an emotional choice, that doesn't feel right until you've found the perfect song. 

We hope this list of gospel funeral songs helps you as you select the right music for all present on the day you lay your loved one to rest.  

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