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 a Song
If your gathering is informal, such as a party, consider running a playlist of the deceased's favorite songs throughout the entire event. This serves to prompt 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 above, focus on choosing a song that 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, but it's actually a fairly 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 choosing it for the gathering.
There are some popular songs that celebrate life and are appropriate for a celebration of life gathering. Peruse the songs below to see if any of them might resonate with whom the deceased was in life.
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 - in particular, a person who didn't always follow the same path as everyone else.
See You Again
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth created this modern song that is about seeing someone close again after a long period, which can be interpreted as meeting again in the afterlife. See You Again comes in two versions: explicit and clean, so make sure you select the one most appropriate for your intended audience. This song is appropriate to honor someone who passed at an earlier age, such as in young adulthood.
What a Wonderful World
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 age.
Don't You Forget About Me
As the title indicates, Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me urges the listener to not forget about the person. 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
This song has some great elements to it 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 a suitable choice for almost anyone - especially someone who wouldn't have wanted people to cry over their death.
Lust for Life
Godfather of Punk Iggy Pop's song Lust for Life is a fast-paced, in-your-face song that is appropriate for a more rambunctious crowd at a celebration of life event. It's not a reflective piece by any means, but more of a song that celebrates going out and living life to the fullest.
Time of Our Lives
Time of Our Lives by Pitbull and Ne-Yo is a modern song celebrating not caring about life's obligations and instead, going out and having fun. Note that there are two versions of this song: one explicit and one clean. This is a party song and works well for a celebration honoring the life of a young person who focused more on life than the expectations of others.
Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
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 choice for a celebration of life for someone who lived a long life and the death wasn't an unexpected shock.
I Hope You Dance
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 to not squander opportunities to live fully, this song is a good choice.
Don't Stop Believin'
Journey's famous anthem is a popular choice for celebrations of life, not only because it so recognizable and easily sang 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 pushing forward.
Live Like You Were Dying
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.
Congruent Song Choice
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 something incongruent to 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.