INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Joe Cocker sang, Little Richard reminisced, and hundreds of friends and relatives of Billy Preston celebrated his musical legacy Tuesday during a funeral as vibrant as Preston himself.
A brass band played a rollicking version of Amazing Grace
during a service filled with tributes to the prolific songwriter and keyboardist who played with the Beatles so often he was sometimes called the fifth member of the band.
Preston died June 6 at a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 59. He battled chronic kidney failure, received a kidney transplant in 2002 and had been in a coma since November.
"He made that piano walk and talk," said Little Richard, who discovered Preston, then in high school, took him on tour in the early 1960s and introduced the teen prodigy to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
"There's nobody in this world who could play the piano like Billy Preston," Little Richard told the crowd in the Faithful Central Bible Church's Tabernacle Worship Center.
Earlier, Cocker elicited shouts and thunderous applause when he sang the ballad You Are So Beautiful
— written by Preston but made famous by the raspy-voiced singer.
A gospel choir clad in bright red sang throughout the almost three-hour service. Other musical performers included Preston's longtime gospel troupe, former Temptations lead vocalist Ali Woodson and singer Merry Clayton.
The mourners also heard letters written by Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and others who toured and recorded with Preston.
"I am deeply saddened to lose such a wonderful friend," McCartney wrote. "I love you Billy."
Bonnie Raitt, also in a letter, said Preston was "one of the most soulful artists I ever knew."
Besides a robust solo career, and his work with the Stones and the Beatles, Preston performed in recording sessions with Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone and Bob Dylan.
He lent his gospel-tinged touch on piano and organ to classics such as the Beatles' Get Back
and the Stones' Can't You Hear Me Knocking?
Known for his ample Afro and gap-toothed grin, Preston broke out as a solo artist in the 1970s, winning a best instrumental Grammy in 1973 for Outta Space,
and scoring other hits with Will It Go 'Round In Circles, Nothing From Nothing.
His duet with Syreeta Wright, With You I'm Born Again,
became a favorite at weddings.
In 1975, Preston sang on the debut of Saturday Night Live.
Last year he appeared on American Idol.