Los Angeles — Had Vesta Williams been able to attend her own funeral, it’s very likely that she would have given the performers who sang their hearts out, and the speakers who reflected on her life during a two-hour, closed-casket service, a standing ovation. They truly represented when it came to celebrating the legacy of heaven’s newest star at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ on Tuesday morning.
Williams, who was found dead at age 54 in a Los Angeles hotel room on Sept. 22, was serenaded by the West A Mass Choir, which sang Soon and Very Soon and Changed; vocalist Jesse Campbell, whose acapella rendition of Amazing Grace brought the house down; and Bridgette Bryant who stirred it up with His Eye is on the Sparrow. There was also a DVD of Williams performing a gospel tune during a Women’s Day service at West A.
The life of the four-octave singer, who was best known for her No. 1 hit Congratulations, was also acknowledged by some of the people who knew her best including: music producer Tena Clark, her longtime manager Iris Perkins and her sisters Minister Margaret Wilson and Martae Collins.
Clark, who co-wrote Congratulations with Williams and Gary Prim, recalled how the singer fought for her to produce tracks on her second album during an era in the music industry when they didn’t let women do so. Williams told Clark if the record company wouldn’t let her have her way she’d have “laryngitis for the next five years.
“I’ve always been indebted to her,” Clark said while fighting back tears. “She was the sweetest angel and the funniest human being I’ve ever met in my life.”
Wilson, who was barely able to get through her remarks talked about the older sister who was her “first friend” and her “protector.” Recalling an incident in which their younger sister was being bullied on the way home from school, Wilson had the congregation laughing hard when she mentioned how an adult Williams, sans makeup, greeted the bully with a baseball bat and approached the bully.
“The girl was so focused on the bat in Vesta’s hand that Vesta hauled off and cold cocked her with her other hand!” Later that day when the girl returned with her mother and the police Williams had applied her makeup, making it impossible for the girl to make a positive I.D.
Among the celebrities attending Tuesday’s services were: Jackee Harry, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, Miki Howard, Norwood Young, Kiki Shepherd, Bill Duke, Freda Payne and Kellita Smith.
Harry, a longtime friend who worked with Williams briefly on Sister, Sister, said before the service that she’ll always remember the singer’s sense of humor. “She often impersonated me in her shows. One time someone asked her what my son’s name was and she said, ‘Frank, but it should be Frankee!’ She had me rolling. I’m just so sorry that a lot of people didn’t know the real Vesta, not just the playful Vesta. We’re here to celebrate her and not mourn.”
Charles E. Blake, the presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ and the pastor at West A, officiated the service with his son Elder Lawrence Blake. In his closing remarks the Bishop remembered Williams as a wonderful woman who “in a very special way blessed us with her music and her service.”
Williams, whose burial information was kept private, is survived by her daughter Tandia White; mother Joan Williams Tate; sisters Margaret Wilson, Martae Collins, Marlena Robinson and brother Marques Williams; and three grandchildren.
Her daughter looks heartbroken.
R.I.P Ms. Vesta
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