Top 10 alternative homegoing (funeral, celebration of life) songs
Mos Def. AP Photo by Matt Sayles

Look. I already know this article will be viewed as sacrilegious by many of y’all. But, this is my truth and I’m sticking to it.

I have attended, officiated and preached eulogies at enough funerals, celebrations of life and homegoings to know what songs are considered standards. Meaning, most folk don’t even consider it a real service if at least one or more of these “standards” aren’t sung. And if that’s true, I don’t want a “real” service when my time comes, if it means I have to “hear” (with my heavenly ears) any of those songs. Two in particular.

What’s my number one DON’T SING song? “His Eye is On the Sparrow.” Is it just me, or is anyone else absolutely done with the 3-to-10 start-stops in the song? You know what I’m talking about; that moment in the song, usually about 15-20 minutes in, when the soloist goes, “I sing… I sing… I sing… I sing… because I’m happy. I sing… I sing… I sing… I sing… because I’m freeeeeeeeeee.” No. Just, no. The only exception to this is if Lauren Hill and Tanya Blount are in the building blowing their classic “Sister Act” version. Other than that… nah.

Next on the list: “Amazing Grace.” I told y’all this list would be considered sacrilege. I mean, what Black person of sound mind, body and spirit would dare say “no” to hearing “Amazing Grace”? Me.

Why? I actually love the song and its message. But I’ve heard it at least 897.2 gazillion times. Plus, have you checked out the backstory on the songwriter?

So, instead of those standards, here’s a list of alternatives that I would like played when the time comes for me to transition to the great Zamani/Sasa; songs that you’re free to employ for your “Goin’ Up Yonder” service.

#10: Angels Watching Over Me by Richard Smallwood – If we’re honest, or if we’ve been paying attention, we could all admit to being blessed by our share of angels in our lives, making appearances when needed, watching over us. Plus, this song is just beautiful.

#9: Be Grateful by Walter Hawkins – I listened to this song almost every day that I was honored to spend on my church’s (Shrine of the Black Madonna) 4,000-plus-acre farm, Beulah Land, in Calhoun Falls, SC. We didn’t have much by way of modern amenities, but we had the land, roofs over our heads and a powerful fellowship. The song reminded me of the importance of being grateful. And because the messages (i.e. eulogy, songs, etc.) delivered during homegoing services are really for those who are still in the land of the living, what a powerful reminder of how to live your life.

#8: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane – It’s not a coincidence that so many of the greatest jazz musicians ever were also some of the most politically and socially progressive and some of the most spiritually open beings on earth. Sure, there are some folk who believe “secular” music has no place in the church. But what’s considered old-school, acceptable gospel today was viewed as ungodly just a generation or two ago. And, if we are all spiritual beings, with talents and gifts given to us by the Great I AM, then are not the things we produce with those gifts, of God? And FYI, if you can’t feel the presence of the Most High when listening to this Coltrane classic, we need to come lay hands on you.

#7: Spirit by Earth, Wind & Fire – This little-known EWF song is on their 1976 album of the same name. The album includes the hits “Getaway,” “Imagination” and “Saturday Nite.” It also includes some hidden gems: “On Your Face,” “Departure,” “Biyo,” “Burnin’ Bush” and “Earth, Wind & Fire.” And yes, Earth, Wind & Fire had a song titled “Earth, Wind & Fire,” which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite EWF jams. But, that song “Spirit” will have you literally goin’ to church (or Temple or Mosque). The album cover artwork is iconic, as well. EWF members are pictured standing, all with eyes closed, in front of three pyramids, set upon an orangish-yellow background. They look to be in deep contemplation… or mourning. Backstory: the group lost one of its members shortly before the making of the album, which probably explains this. But again, the song “Spirit” is one for the ages.

#6: Order My Steps in Your Word by Al Hobbs – I know I’m not the only one who asks the Almighty to “Order My Steps” when I’m praying. And I can testify that the Alpha & Omega has done just that. Many times.

#5: You Will Rise by Sweetback featuring Amel Larrieux – Amel Larrieux is one of my favorite artists. She unashamedly celebrates the love she has for her husband and family in her work. She also fearlessly confronts hard social issues in many of her songs, when she’s not singing old standards in a voice that puts you in the mind of talented songstresses from the past, like Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sassy Sarah Vaughn. But most of Larrieux’s songs seek to uplift the human spirit, as does “You Will Rise” which appears on Sweetback’s debut album. Sweetback, for those who don’t know, are members of Sade’s band. Yes. That Sade. The message of “You Will Rise” is a sermon in itself; one that could work wonders being “preached” at a loved one’s Celebration of Life, or any time.

#4: God Is by James Cleveland & the SoCal Community Choir– I have a huge personal testimony connected to this song; one that’s too long to share here. But just know one thing… GOD IS! And FYI, nobody, not even James Cleveland and crew, sings this song like the Shrine Nationaires!

#3: Show ‘Em Whatcha Got by Public Enemy – Public Enemy did something spiritual for me. They and their music did as much (if not more) to awaken me to my divine purpose than any gospel song, sermon or all-church fish fry. The most difficult thing for me here, was which PE song to choose. I thought about “Fight the Power” because it contains one of the coldest lines ever (“Elvis was a hero to most…). Also, I was tempted to go with the greatest hip-hop song of all time, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” But I finally landed on “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” because it literally speaks to God working in and through and with and around us Blackfolk throughout our sojourn in this Babylon. WARNING: This jam may cause church deacons to exchange their Brooks’ Brothers suits for a Gil Scott Heron red, black & green jumpsuit, and have the mothers of the church throwing off those white head coverings and letting their Angela Davis afros blow out in all their glory. #watchouttherenow

#2: Awesome by Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago – Another testimony too long to share in this limited space. But f’sho, “My God is Awesome, He heals me when I’m broken. Gives strength where I’ve been weakened. Forever She will reign.”

#1: Umi Says by Mos Def – My God-given assignment is to help wake people up to their divine worth. That’s exactly what this song does. At least that’s what it does for me. Words of description can’t do this song justice. So, just go listen to it, and float off into the bass overlayed with the melodic chant, “I want my people to be free, to be free, to be free…”

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...