Music plays a vital role in a funeral service or celebration of life. Songs played at a funeral can set the tone for the service, open us up to feelings we’ve been avoiding, and express emotions we can’t put into words. For this reason, renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt says that music is one of the most important elements of a funeral.
When choosing music to play at the service, it’s important to pick songs that will be meaningful to your family and friends. Of course, if you know your loved one’s favorite songs, you can incorporate those into the funeral. But if your loved one grew up in the 1940s – or just loved the beautiful sounds of 1940s music – here are ten songs you could use to honor their memory.
I’ll Be Seeing You (Billie Holiday, 1944)
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
A classic song about missing someone you love, this version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1944. Both the lyrics of this 1940s song and Billie’s beautiful voice capture the feeling of seeing your lost loved one all around you. Whether you use this song in your loved one’s celebration of life or not, listening to it can provide comfort by reminding you that your loved one lives on in your memory.
Fun fact: “I’ll Be Seeing You” was played for the Opportunity rover on Mars after it finished its final mission!
We’ll Meet Again (Vera Lynn, 1939)
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
While “We’ll Meet Again” was originally released in 1939, it became enormously popular in the 1940s, especially during World War II. At a time when many families lost their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons to the war, they found comfort and hope in this beautiful song. As you and your family mourn the loss of your loved one, playing this song during the funeral or celebration of life can bring your family and friends hope for the future.
Only Forever (Bing Crosby, 1940)
Do you think I’ll remember
How you looked when you smile?
That’s puttin’ it mild
Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1940, “Only Forever” spent 20 weeks on the Billboard charts and 9 weeks in the #1 spot. This popular song speaks of love, loyalty, and remembering a loved one forever, which makes it a wonderful choice for honoring your significant other, a parent, or a close friend. This song would also make a great background song for a slideshow of photos honoring your loved one.
Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller, 1939)
Released in 1939, “Moonlight Serenade” was one of the most popular songs of the 1940s. While Glenn Miller’s original tune has no words, the music is smooth, peaceful, and full of emotion. This classic swing tune evokes pleasant memories of days gone by and hope for the future, making it perfect for a funeral or memorial service.
A Sentimental Journey (Doris Day, 1944)
Gonna set my heart at eas
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories
Performed by Les Brown and His Band of Renown, “A Sentimental Journey” was sung by Doris Day and released in 1944. Whether you’re looking for a song to play at a celebration of life or just to listen to while thinking of your loved one, this lovely tune encourages reminiscing and cherishing the memories of days gone by. It would also be a wonderful song to use for a slideshow at a memorial service.
When the Saints Go Marching In (Louis Armstrong, 1938)
Now when the saints go marching in
Yes, I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
While the exact origins of “When the Saints Go Marching In” are unclear, the gospel song likely developed from a combination of similar songs. There are many versions of the song, but in 1938, Louis Armstrong transformed the song into the jazzy version modern listeners are most familiar with. While this song is more upbeat, it can be a lovely, personal addition to a funeral or memorial service for someone who was passionate about their faith.
Over the Rainbow (Judy Garland, 1939)
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
“Over the Rainbow” is an instantly recognizable tune for any fan of The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland captured audiences’ imaginations as Dorothy Gale in 1939, and her signature song took on a life of its own – in the 1940s and beyond. Filled with dreams and hope for the future, “Over the Rainbow” would be a lovely song to play at a celebration of life, especially for someone who loved The Wizard of Oz.
Till the End of Time (Perry Como, 1945)
Till the end of time
Long as stars are in the blue
Long as there’s a spring, a bird to sing
I’ll go on loving you
While several artists recorded their own versions of “Till the End of Time,” Perry Como’s version of the song was the most popular by far, staying at #1 on the Billboard charts for ten consecutive weeks. With lyrics about everlasting and unconditional love, this song would make a touching addition to a funeral or celebration of life for a lost spouse or significant other.
Ave Maria (Frank Sinatra, 1944)
“Ave Maria” was originally composed by Franz Schubert as “Ellens dritter Gesang” (“Ellen’s Third Song”) in 1825. Soon after it was released, the song became popular in the Catholic church and gained religious significance. Frank Sinatra’s version of the song was recorded in 1944, and his beautiful voice pairs wonderfully with the song. If your loved one was religious, you could incorporate this lovely song in the funeral or memorial service.
Lavender Coffin (Lionel Hampton, 1949)
Yes, I’m a-comin’ today
One of the more upbeat songs on this list, “Lavender Coffin” was recorded by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra in 1949. This swing song provides a different perspective on death and a hopeful outlook on life, Heaven, and the future. While this song is more cheerful in tone than some of the other songs, it could be a passionate addition to a celebration of life or a homegoing.
Songs from other decades
- 10 Songs from the 1950s for a Celebration of Life
- 10 Songs from the 1960s for a Celebration of Life
- 9 Songs from the 1970s for a Celebration of Life