US First Lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey heralded the late poet and activist as a ‘force of history’ at her solemn memorial service.
During a service held in remembrance of poet, author and civil rights champion Maya Angelou, US First Lady Michelle Obama hailed the literary luminary as a dominant cultural force.
Obama credited the writer’s works, including her pioneering 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, with helping to "carry a young black girl from the South Side of Chicago to the White House" in reference to her own life's journey.
“She celebrated black women’s beauty like no one ever had before,” Obama said to more than 2,000 people at Angelou’s private memorial service in North Carolina on June 7. “She told us our worth had nothing to do with what the world might say.”
Former President Bill Clinton, media magnate Oprah Winfrey and actress Cicely Tyson also honoured Angelou during the service at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where she lived and taught for three decades.
Angelou was 86 when she died at her home on May 28. Despite years of failing health, her only child, Guy B. Johnson, said she never lost her mental acuity. Angelou served as a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest since 1982, and had planned to teach a course on race, culture and gender this fall, the university said.
The tribute to her was celebratory and solemn. Winfrey and Tyson each wept over the loss of their “rock” while rousing performances by singers Lee Ann Womack, BeBe Winans and Alyson Williams brought the audience to their feet.