“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,” said Jayanthi Kyle, as she reflected on what inspired her emerging work of singing at funerals. Kyle offers the healing power of song to families who are celebrating the life of loved ones who have passed on.
Kyle said her 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,“ she said. “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. She led the choir that sang at the first same-sex marriages in Minnesota at the Minneapolis City Hall last summer.
With an easy smile, warm eyes, a halo-like afro, and a heavenly voice, Kyle’s presence soothes mourning families. “I saw what (singing) did for people,” she said. “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.”
Kyle sees her work as more than providing a vocal performance. She said she sees herself serving in the capacity of a fellow mourner and celebrant. “I really enjoy hearing what people say about the departed,” said Kyle. When she sings at funerals, she sits with families and friends 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,” she explained. “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 said, “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 something like ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand,’ and I have sung Leonard Cohen, too.”
Kyle talked 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,” she recalled. “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 he felt that I had put the room in a good place.”
CORRECTIONS 2/26/2014: Photo credit to Kaylynn Raschke.
Kyle sang at Minneapolis City Hall, not the State Capitol last summer.
Kyle can be contacted at email@example.com