Music is that singular element that can add dimension, emotion, beauty, and lasting memories to a funeral service. If you get stuck on ideas, try choosing the ones most closely matching to the personality of the decedent, rather than only ones you only hear on the radio.
If in doubt, consult with your clergymen or funeral directors for help so that you and your family make the best decision to help honor your loved one.
Tip: Creating a funeral playlist might be just a small part of your post-death responsibilities. If you need helping sorting it all out, check out our post-loss checklist.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Best Contemporary Funeral Songs
- Best Christian Funeral Songs
- Best Songs to Remember Mom and Dad
- Best Upbeat Funeral Songs
- Best Sad Funeral Songs
In an overflowing sea of music to choose from, it may feel impossible to choose the best one or ten songs, so let this be a guide to help you in preparing the music for your loved one’s funeral, memorial slideshow, and virtual or Zoom funeral reception.
Remember, your loved one had many emotions, so it’s okay to choose both happy and somber songs. Whatever suits the person and the ceremony will be just fine.
COVID-19 tip: If you're hosting a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, make sure to test your audio beforehand so online and in-person guests can enjoy the songs together during the service.
1. "Nothing Compares to You" by Sinéad O’Connor
Maybe you remember this iconic song from the 1980s. Written and composed by Prince, Sinéad O-Connor’s voice absorbs the lyrics with total familiarity. She sings that time passes desolately, miserably when you lose something you hadn’t planned on losing.
2. "My Way" by Frank Sinatra
Maybe the most perfect send-off for your dad or grandpa, this is a song about doing, being, and seeing everything on your own terms. Best, you’ll be able to see your loved one is every lyric.
3. "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler
This song was released in 1988 for the movie, Beaches. Bette Midler’s full, but hearty alto sings about how the right support system helps you to achieve more.
4. "Time to Say Goodbye" by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli
Sung mostly in Italian, nothing in this orchestra could disappoint you. Andrea Bocelli is an Italian opera singer and Sarah Brightman is a multi-lingual soprano. Both voices are perfectly matched with the strings and percussion in the background.
5. "When I’m Gone" by Joey + Rory
This may be one of the more heartbreaking contemporary songs you’ll hear because the author and singer wrote this to her daughter knowing cancer would prevent her from watching her daughter grow up.
6. "Lay Me Down" by Sam Smith
You’ll discover that this song begins with only a breathy singer and his lonely piano. It’s a sorrowful call to your partner because you feel so empty without them.
7. "My Immortal" by Evanescence
My Immortal is a song that perfectly explains that when someone is no longer with you, they still possess every part of you.
8. "How Long Will I Love You" by Elie Goulding
Elie Goulding sings that love can last longer, faster, farther, deeper, and more intensely than mere words will ever permit you to say. She intends to reach every zenith of love out there.
9. "Lullabye (Goodnight my Angel)" by Billie Joel
A piano-playing icon sings this song about how he’s sorry he left you sooner than expected. But he wants you to know that he’ll miss everything about those moments, too.
10. "One More Day" by Diamond Rio
This song sums up how your longing for one more of every moment you’ve had with someone never goes away.
11. "Amazing Grace" by Salt Lake Vocal Artists
Written by a poet and clergyman, this John Newton Hymn came from his personal experiences. You’ll find that it’s deeply moving no matter which version you choose.
12. "How Great Thou Art" by Adam Quin
Originally a Swedish poem, How Great Thou Art has been translated into many languages, but you may discover that the instrumental/hymnal versions are equally as good as the lyrical ones.
13. "Abide With Me" by Audrey Assad
Audrey Assad is a popular Christian singer with a soft alto voice. The song intends to comfort you, explaining that the Lord will always be beside you.
14. "Be Thou My Vision" by Audrey Assad
“By day or by night, waking or sleeping,” this song is meant to let you understand that everything is better when the Lord is near, making this a comforting song especially in a time of grief and mourning.
15. "The Lord’s My Shepherd" by Stuart Townend
Found in the Old Testament, Psalm 23 is a traditional hymnal in both Christian and Jewish ceremonies. It explains and gives cause for complete trust in God.
16. "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (feat. Jeremy Casella)" by Indelible Grace
Jeremy Casella’s easy, but raspy tenor voice, reminiscent of Bryan Adams, sings this song which helps you know that God will protect and guide you when you die. This song explains that there’s no need for you to be anxious or fearful.
17. "Fairest Lord Jesus (Beautiful Savior)" by August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben and Ernst Richter
Originally composed in 1842, it’s beautifully presented as a piano concerto. The song tells you that although death is saddening, there’s also a lot to be grateful like the sunshine, woodland, or stars above.
18. "The Old Rugged Cross" by Bryan Davis
Reminiscent of the Boys 2 Men vocalists, Bryan sings a capella for this version of The Old Rugged Cross. Written by George Bennard in 1912, the hymn is about being happy to serve God when he calls you home.
19. "Jerusalem" by William Blake
Written in 1804, the hymn is about being saved during the second coming. When sung inside a full church, you’ll find that the melody becomes super impactful.
20. "Lord of All Hopefulness" by Jan Struther
Written in 1931, this hymn asks God to be with us at each crossing in life. There are several versions, but brass instruments in the Norwich Cathedral version are particularly beautiful.
21. "Living Years" by Mike + the Mechanics
The Living Years is a quintessential song about remorse for not having said the words a child wanted to say to his father before he died.
22. "My Father’s Eyes" by Eric Clapton
My Father’s Eyes is a touching tribute not only about an artist who never met his father, but also one who lost his young son. Eric Clapton has described the song as his singular link between the two of them.
23. "Dance with My Father" by Luther Vandross
This is a selfless song about a young man who, although he misses his dad very much, also comes to understand and plead with God so that his mom might have another opportunity to dance with her husband.
24. "Hero" by Mariah Carey
Hero is a song that you can relate to your father (or mother) as the inner strength you have when hope and strength leave you.
25. "Smile" by Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole’s rich, pleasant voice sings all the words and advice your parents would have offered to you when you were young.
26. "Like a River" by Carly Simon
Carly Simon’s love for her mother is so descriptive and evident in each of the lyrics, but they are all very relatable to each of us. Even the “worn step” on the back porch tells a story we can relate to.
27. "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban
This song is very much a song for mom and dad. Josh Groban fully illustrates how parents are determined to be in your corner so that you can succeed at anything.
28. "Mama" by Il Divo
Although the video doesn’t really represent the lyrics the way you might imagine, the song does recognize moms as individuals who gave up a lot for us.
29. "Goodbye’s (the Saddest Word)" by Celine Dion
This song lets you know to be present for your mom at the end. It’s important to be just as strong for your mom as she has been for you.
30. "You’ll Never Walk Alone" by Judy Garland
You may discover this song to be life-affirming. Judy Garland sings that whether the sky is “windy, rainy or golden,” you’ll never walk alone.
31. "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong
This is the one song on this list that is absolutely timeless. What a Wonderful World will remind you of happy times with your family, no matter the time of year—season or event.
32. "Bring Me Sunshine" by Morecambe & Wise
This song clearly tries to cheer us up and xylophone our way to a better day. The takeaway is that we should remember to walk through life knowing that things will certainly turn around thanks to these British comedians.
33. "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin
McFerrin’s falsetto brightens the day. He sings that when you are in doubt, lacking cash, missing this or that, just remember…Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Life always turns around.
34. "You are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder
Jazzy 70s style singing captures what your dad or mom might sing to you at bedtime. Happy, lasting love is here, there, in your heart, and in heaven.
35. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole ‘Ole
This 1993 Hawai’ian rendition of two beautiful songs is accompanied by a ukulele. I think it echoes that nostalgic, untouched paradise of youth coupled with every good thing that ever happened to you in your life.
36. "I’ll See You Again" by Westlife
This archetypal UK boy band harmonizes really well and sings that it’s still possible to be grateful and better simply by having known someone. And that you’ll see them again.
37. "Nessum Dorma" by Luciano Pavarotti
This time, a classical operatic song by one of the greats in Italian opera. Because the song is Italian, the words about impending fates seem less tragic, even hopeful.
38. "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum
The song doesn't exactly present ready excitement, but more a lack of fear in dying in the most upbeat way that a bluesy folk singer can sing.
39. "When the Saints Go Marching" In by Louis Armstrong
A jazzy, scratchy voice accompanied by brass and woodwinds and brass will bring a little levity to your sad day.
40. "You Are Not Alone" by Michael Jackson
Sung by the King of Pop, this is a mellow but positive song to remind you that your friend is nearby when you need them.
41. "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton
Although a father is lamenting the loss of a child, he sings sweetly that when he sees him again, he knows there won’t be any reason for sorrow.
42. "Right Here Waiting for You" by Richard Marx
Written in 1989, the song is a synthesizer-filled pop-rock song. The message is that even when you go, I’ll still be holding a flame for you.
43. "We’ll Meet Again" by Vera Lynn
Although written in 1939, this song is timeless with its big band, trumpet mutes, echoing female crooner, dance hall chorus, and bombastic finish.
44. "Pie Jesu" by Celtic Woman
A sweet, innocent, and effortless voice sings (translated), “Merciful Jesus, Who takes away the sins of the world, Grant them rest, Everlasting, Rest.” It’s a short, but stunning song.
45. "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd
Iconic 70s guitar riffs and long pauses between the lyrics allow plenty of room for reminiscing. Definitely a great song for someone who appreciated the time of transitions in our country during war, finding peace, and a time to fight yourself out of marginalization.
46. "How Do I Live?" by LeAnn Rimes
“How do I live?” is the same question we each ask ourselves after losing someone close to us. This song is sung by a true vocal genius who released the song when she was only 15 years old.
47. "Unchained Melody" by Righteous Brothers
Made famous by Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in the movie, Ghost, the song perfectly paints a picture of longing.
48. "Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston
This song appeared on the soundtrack and movie, The Bodyguard, and explains the cruel fate that love changes.
49. "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley
If you would like to play a song to help your guests cry easily, this is your song. Jeff Buckley doesn’t disappoint in this rendition, because you will fully understand the knows the pain right along with you.
50. "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John
If you weren’t fated to really know your loved one before they passed, then you may be able to relate to the most iconic funeral song of the twentieth century. Written for Princess Diana, this song gave comfort to an entire nation who lost their beloved “people’s princess.”
Funeral Songs to Bring Joy, Closure, and Lasting Memories
While planning a memorial service or funeral is a very difficult thing to do, the songs you choose for your loved one can smooth over the pain with time, and with each time you hear them. That’s one of the most amazing things about a really good song.
Let your loved ones know what songs you’d like to have played at your funeral. Create a free Cake end-of-life profile to get started.