In memory of Ruby Dee
NEW YORK (AP) – Actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee was memorialised yesterday in poetry, dance and song at a packed Harlem cathedral where Alicia Keys sang her song Superwoman. Wynton Marsalis performed a stirring trumpet solo, and well-wishes were sent from Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and the White House.
The three-hour celebration of Lee’s life was held at the cavernous Riverside Church in New York. Dee died June 11 at age 91 and was called everything from a “”small but mighty lady”, to a “street-fighter” to the “voice of our humanity”.
Her beloved husband Ossie Davis, whom she married in 1948, died in 2005. The Rev. James A. Forbes Jr in his remarks said Davis had likely been waiting for her outside the pearly gates since then.
The ceremony was both sad and funny, celebrating someone who was both “mommy” and an icon who faced down apartheid in South Africa.
“This was an absolute celebration,” said actor Courtney B. Vance afterward. He also attended a memorial for Davis at the same church: “She and Ossie – they did it. They broke the mould. It’s for us to now follow them.”
Dee’s grandkids painted a private portrait of a woman who never slept in, who loved apple cider vinegar, who rarely threw out old food and who loved gardening and a glass of red wine – with an ice cube.
They said she believed in hard work, never took a day off, and even would require they submit to an interview before they were granted a part-time job helping her out in the summers. Her son, Guy Davis, sang his sweet song Love Looks Good on You.
Dee’s long career earned her an Emmy, a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Centre Honours, the National Medal of Art and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She earned an Oscar nomination at age 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film American Gangster.
Former New York City mayor David Dinkins read a letter from Barack and Michelle Obama that praised her for an “extraordinary life” and for “throwing open the doors of opportunity.” The couple noted that they saw Dee act in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on their first date.
Eight actresses – Tyne Daly, Kim Fields, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Elizabeth Van Dyke, Pauletta Washington, Susan Taylor and Lynn Whitfield – read sections of Dee’s poetry and prose.
Peter Yarrow, of the band Peter, Paul and Mary and who had joined Dee on the 1963 March on Washington, sang a medley of This Little Light of Mine and Down by the Riverside with his daughter, Bethany Yarrow.