Any songs played at a celebration of life gathering should serve two purposes: they should be songs the deceased enjoyed, and they should be celebratory. Remember that a gathering of this type is not meant to be somber; think more along the lines of a party the deceased would have very much enjoyed attending.
Selecting Songs for a Celebration of Life
If your gathering is informal, such as a party, consider running a playlist of the deceased's favorite songs throughout the entire event. This prompts positive memories among those in attendance as they remember listening to those songs with the deceased in happier times. If, on the other hand, you are looking for one song to play, perhaps as a special moment during the celebration of life service, strive to select a song that meets these criteria:
- A song the deceased was known to love
- A song that celebrates life
- A song that can't be misconstrued as offensive to the grief experienced by those left behind
The Best Song Choice
If you can't find a song that meets every suggestion, focus on choosing a song you know the deceased loved. If that song doesn't happen to be about the joy of life, then that's still fine, as long as it isn't blatantly inappropriate. For example, Bryan Adams' popular song Summer of 69 may seem like a fun song reminiscent of years gone past. Still, it's a reasonably risque song full of sexual innuendos - anyone who understands the song's true meanings will find it a comical (or horribly inappropriate) choice for a celebration of life. Just make sure any song you choose doesn't have double meanings before selecting it for the gathering.
Powerful Celebration of Life Song Selections
There are some popular songs that celebrate life and are appropriate for a celebration of life gathering. Peruse and listen to these songs to see if they might resonate with whom the deceased was in life.
My Way by Frank Sinatra
A popular song that tells the story of a person who lived life their way, Frank Sinatra's My Way is a common choice for funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life. This song is appropriate for just about anyone - particularly a person who didn't always follow the same path as everyone else.
See You Again by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth created this modern song about seeing someone close again after a long period, which can be interpreted as meeting again in the afterlife. See You Again is available in two versions: explicit and clean, so make sure you select the one most appropriate for your intended audience. This song is fitting to honor someone who passed at an earlier age, such as in young adulthood.
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong's classic What a Wonderful World celebrates life. It's a great choice to honor someone who had a positive outlook in life, regardless of their age.
Don't You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
As the title indicates, Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me urges the listener to not forget about the person who is no longer with them. And while the song isn't necessarily about remembering someone who died, the catchy chorus makes it appropriate for an upbeat celebration of life gathering for someone who is unforgettable.
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
This song has some outstanding elements for a celebration of life gathering. It's a slower song, yet not somber. Sarah McLachlan's I Will Remember You is about remembering relationships fondly without grieving the loss of the relationship. This song is suitable for almost anyone... especially someone who wouldn't have wanted people to cry over their death.
Time of Our Lives by Pitbull and Ne-Yo
Time of Our Lives by Pitbull and Ne-Yo is a modern song celebrating not caring about life's obligations, and focusing on having fun instead. Note that this song has two versions: one explicit and one clean. This is a party song, and it works well for a celebration honoring the life of a young person who lived on their own terms, as opposed to trying to live up to the expectations of others.
Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) by The Byrds
Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) by The Byrds is a well-recognized song from the 60s that reminds listeners of the natural course of life and death. It's a good song choice for celebrating someone who lived a long life; and their death wasn't an unexpected shock.
I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack's song is a message to the listener to actively participate in life and not sit out on the fun to be had. I Hope You Dance features a slow pace that is easily swayed to, making it appropriate for a concluding song where attendees embrace. If the deceased would likely have sent the message to those left behind not to squander opportunities to live fully, this song is a great selection.
Don't Stop Believin' by Journey
Journey's famous anthem is a popular choice for celebrations of life, not only because it so recognizable and easy to sing along with, but also because Don't Stop Believin' is about pushing through life no matter what happens. It's appropriate to celebrate the life of someone who never let the hassles of life stop them from moving forward.
Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw
Perhaps the best song to play at the celebration of life for someone who had time to enjoy life intentionally before passing away, Tim McGraw's country song Live Like You Were Dying tells the narrative of a man in his 40s who is told he doesn't have long to live, so he goes out and lives life exuberantly. It's a message to those left behind that every day is a gift, making it appropriate for nearly any celebration of life gathering.
Arms Open by The Script
Arms Open by The Script gives you those feel-good vibes. It shows you that no matter what you are going through, someone is always there for you, even if they might only be there for you in spirit.
Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler
This song by Bette Midler is a true tribute to a fantastic person in your life. It shows how happy their life has been and the special way they have held you up in life. It pays tribute to those heroes in your life that loved you from the shadows.
You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban
Josh Groban pays a beautiful tribute through his song, You Raise Me Up. With a haunting melody that speaks to your soul, this song celebrates the quiet heroes in your life. It's a perfect celebration song for parents and guardians who supported you throughout their life.
One Sweet Day by Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men
One Sweet Day works to celebrate the life of the person you are missing, while anticipating the moment that you'll be together again. While this song doesn't cover up your sadness, it uses its sweet melody to show how the person you are grieving is still with you in spirit.
You'll Be in My Heart by Phil Collins
Looking for an upbeat tune that shows your special person will always be in your heart? Give You'll Be in My Heart by Phil Collins a try for your celebration. It shows that no one is ever far from you when they are in your heart.
Select Songs That Harmonize With Your Celebration
Even if you find a song that you feel has the exact message the deceased would want to convey to those left behind, stop and analyze if the song is one the deceased would have enjoyed. You don't want to choose a tune that's incongruent with who the person was in life. For example, no matter how much Lose Yourself by Eminem embodies everything your grandfather would have wanted to tell everyone, the explicit language and rap genre may not resonate well with the intended audience. Conversely, a celebration of life gathering for a young, vibrant person where you play Eric Clapton's slow anthem Tears in Heaven may feel wrong, especially if you're striving for a celebration. Make sure the song matches the vibe of the celebration and the music preferences of the deceased in life.