By Junauda Petrus
“There are funerals where they bring out a boombox and it’s so impersonal. It doesn’t honor or celebrate the person. It doesn’t touch souls the way live music can, the way a live human being could move with the spirit of the room, the feelings people are having, and pick up on that energy,” shares Jayanthi Kyle reflecting on what inspires her emerging work of singing at funerals. Kyle now offers the healing power of song to families who are celebrating the lives of loved ones who have passed on.
Kyle’s experience as a young woman in many ways prepared her for this work. “I had a lot of family members and close friends pass when I was younger,” reminisces Kyle. “[I was able to’] give everybody something
musically for the service. I was able to shut things off for that purpose, to present a song.”
Kyle is the singer for six different bands in town, including Black Audience, Gospel Machine and Jayanthi and the Crybabies. She sings a wide range of music, everything from reggae to gospel, children’s music to civil rights tunes. Kyle additionally uses her love of singing to heal and organize in her community. She led the choir that sang at the first same-sex marriages in Minnesota at City Hall last summer.
With an easy smile, warm eyes, a halo-like afro, and a heavenly voice, Kyle’s presence soothes like an angel. She brings the sacredness of song to any moment, a skill she finds essential to honoring loved ones who have passed away.
Kyle recognizes that the presence of song supports each individual differently. “I saw what [singing] did for people — it allowed them to grieve, or have a break from their grieving. It would allow them to ‘not be’ at the funeral, if that is not where they really wanted to be. They could be taken away by music.”
Currently, people know of Kyle through word of mouth, but she is ready to make her vocal services formally available for hire for those who wish to have her sing at the ceremony of a lost loved one.
Kyle sees her work as more than providing a vocal performance, but also serving in the capacity of a fellow mourner and celebrant. “I really enjoy hearing what people say about the departed,” says Kyle. When she sings at funerals, she sits with loved ones and listens to their stories and serves as witness while they remember and reflect on precious memories.
Knowing the difficulty in preparing a funeral, Kyle provides a list of songs for family members to choose from. “People have a year or more, to figure out the music for a wedding. When somebody dies, you got like, three days to plan. You got all these things to prepare for: the coffin, the service. You got all of these people on your mind and heart.”
As for popular song selection, Kyle says, “A lot of people when they are grieving like to hear hymns. It is comforting when they are grieving. Some people want to hear, ‘I’ll Fly Away.’ There was one day where I did three funerals, all suicides. At one of them I sang, ‘You Are So Beautiful to Me.’
“One of the last funerals I did, they wanted ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ But usually [they want] something like ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Precious Lord Take My Hand,’ and I have sung Leonard Cohen, too.”
Kyle shares about a recent funeral for a young woman who passed away. “It was a small service, about 20 people, and the dad picked out songs that he thought would be appropriate,” recalls Kyle. “As soon as I started, you could feel the people in the room begin to weep, like they felt they had a place and time, that it was an appropriate moment to let it out. As soon as I finished, her father put his hands to his lips and brought them away and opened his hands, almost as to say that he approved, that it was perfect. That meant a lot to me. It seemed to me that felt that I had put the room in a good place.”
Thanks to the Twin Cities Daily Planet and Junauda Petrus for sharing this story.