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Oprah, The First Lady Pay Tribute to Maya Angelou at Memorial Service

6/18/2014 Natalie Abrams

By Natalie Abrams

The life of Maya Angelou was celebrated on Saturday morning, as various friends and family paid tribute to the poet, author and civil rights activist at her memorial service in North Carolina.

The service took place at Wake Forest University, where Angelou had taught as a professor since 1982. Among those in attendance were actress Cicely Tyson, former President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Lee Ann Womack, who performed her hit number "I Hope You Dance," which Angelou has previously said is one of her favorite songs.  

Clinton was among those who spoke during the service, telling mourners that he "loved Maya." Angelou penned the poem "On the Pulse of Morning" for his first presidential inauguration in 1993. "She called our attention in thousands of ways to her belief that life is a gift manifested in each new day," he said. "She called our attention to the fact that things that really mattered — dignity, work, love and kindness — are things that we can all share and don't cost a thing and they matter more than the differences of wealth and power, of strength and beauty [and] of intellect. ... Nothing is more powerful than giving honor to the things we share."

"The loss I feel, I cannot describe," an emotional Winfrey said from the dais. "It's like something I have never felt before. She was my spiritual queen mother and everything that that word implies. She was the ultimate teacher. She taught me the poetry of courage and respect. ... It has been difficult for me to try to put into words what it means to lose our rock. She was my anchor, so it's hard to describe to you what it means when your anchor shifts. But I realized this morning I really don't have to put it into words, what I have to do is live it, because that's what she would want. She would want me, you, us to live her legacy." (Watch Winfrey and Angelou together on Super Soul Sunday here.)

The First Lady reflected on how Angelou's words "sustained me on every step of my journey" through childhood and beyond. "Through lonely moments in Ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trial where, at times, my very womanhood was dissected and questioned. For me, that was the power of Maya Angelou's words; words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House."

Angelou died last week at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., at the age of 86.

See other celebrities we've lost this year

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