Obama credited the writer's works, including her pioneering
1969 autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," with
helping carry a young black girl from the South Side of Chicago
to the White House.
"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. "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 honored 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 after years
of failing health. Her only child, son Guy B. Johnson, said she
never lost her mental acuity.
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.
Speakers recalled the courageous spirit that allowed Angelou to
overcome rape and racism during her childhood in the segregated
South and produce a vast body of work that includes reading list
staples in American classrooms.
The voice she found after years of not speaking due to her abuse
was one of rare power and clarity, Clinton said. Angelou wrote
the poem "On the Pulse of Morning" and read it at Clinton's
first presidential inauguration in 1993.
"She had the voice of God, and he decided he wanted it back,"
[to top of second column]
Angelou wrote more than 30 books of fiction, poetry and memoir
during her prodigious career. She also was a Tony-nominated stage
actress, Grammy Award winner for three spoken-word albums, civil
rights activist, streetcar conductor, singer, dancer, movie director
In 2011, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest
civilian honor, was bestowed upon Angelou by President Barack Obama.
The president said his sister was named for the poet.
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.
Winfrey counted herself among Angelou's devoted students and said
she often took notes during conversations with her "spiritual queen
mother." She was a news reporter in Baltimore in the 1970s when she
met Angelou, and the two women became close friends.
She said Angelou's legacy of dignity, love and respect gave
testament to the power of one life, and Winfrey vowed to embrace the
challenge of walking in her mentor's footsteps.
"Baby, I want you to do it and I want you to take it," Winfrey said,
quoting Angelou. "Take it all the way."
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Editing by
Sonya Hepinstall, Gunna Dickson and Bernard Orr)
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