A celebratory tone prevailed among the many friends, family members, and public officials who spoke at the funeral. Eulogists represented the many facets of Withersâ life.
Afro-centric spiritualist Ekpe Abioto assured the crowd that âdeath is a fulfillment of life.â? Trumpeter Mickey Gregory, a former Stax Records session player and Beale Street club entertainer represented Withersâ rhythm and blues associates, though he performed the popular gospel composition âTake My Hand Precious Lord.â?
Mayor Willie Herenton called Withers a âgiant and a genius,â? expressing his gratitude to God âthat I Willie Herenton had the privilege of kneeling at [Withersâ] feet.
âThey donât put just anybodyâs obituary in the New York Times,â? he reminded the audience.
Reverend Samuel âBillyâ? Kyles, said that like the drop of water that knocks holes in stone by oft-falling, Withers âcamera knocked holes in the stones of ignorance one click at a time.â?
Beale Street developer John Elkington promised âthere will always be a Withers gallery on Beale.â? He added that he once asked Withers if heâd been afraid photographing civil rights era riots and episodes of police brutality.
âNo,â? Withers told Elkington. âI was too busy working.â?
Finally, a family member evoked tender personal memories of Withers playing on the floor and watching cartoons with his grandchildren. âHe saw the world through our eyes,â? Withersâ granddaughter Esi Sawyer recalled.
Those gathered would agree that weâre better for having seen the world through his.
A procession down Beale Street and interment at Elmwood Cemetery followed.###