MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. ? Heavy D was remembered with laughter and tears Friday during a star-studded funeral service that included Jay-Z and Will Smith, humorous anecdotes from longtime friend Diddy, and words of encouragement for the late rapper's family, delivered in a letter from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
"We extend our heartfelt condolences at this difficult time. He will be remembered for his infectious optimism and many contributions to American music. Please know that you and your family will be in our thoughts and prayers," read the note from the Obamas, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who quoted from it during the service.
Xea Myers, Heavy D's 11-year-old daughter, also spoke briefly, telling the audience that her father was "still here, not in the flesh, but in the spirit."
Grace Baptist Church was filled to capacity for the two-and-half-hour service, which was also streamed live on the Web. It was so crowded, an overflow area was set up. Among those in attendance were Usher, Queen Latifah, Don King, Q-Tip, John Legend and Rosie Perez.
"Silently he's been influential in a lot of our careers," Usher said after the service. "His love still lives on."
A large photo of Heavy D sat next to his closed casket.
Heavy D died last week in Los Angeles at the age of 44. His family said the death was due to complications from pneumonia.
The self-proclaimed "Overweight Lover" was born in Jamaica but reared in Mount Vernon, which he dubbed "Money Earnin' Mount Vernon." It was also the home of Sean "Diddy" Combs. Diddy talked about how Heavy D helped give him his start in the music industry, and how their decades-long friendship continued up until Heavy D's death.
"He became my friend. He became my brother, and I'm not talking about friend-brother like we cavalierly use the word, I'm talking about a real friend, a real brother," Diddy said. "Somebody I shared my dreams and my secrets with, somebody that's been there for me at my lowest point, my darkest hour when nobody wanted to be beside me."
But he also told jokes as he recounted his "bromance" with the rapper, including a recent visit to Miami that was supposed to last for three days, but "turned into three weeks." He added that Heavy D got to know his chef "very well."
Sharpton also drew laughter when he noted that James Brown "made us black and proud; (Heavy D) made us fat and proud."
But singer Johnny Gill was tearful when he approached the altar, saying: "Just want to say to Heavy: Job well done." He later gave a powerful rendition the gospel hit "Never Would Have Made It." Heavy D's nieces were also teary-eyed as they sang the gospel standard "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Yolanda Adams and Anthony Hamilton also performed.
Heavy D, whose real name was Dwight Myers, was influential in the development of rap as it grew into a phenomenon in the late 1980s and 1990s. His hits included "Now That We've Found Love" and "Nuttin' But Love"; much of his music marked the "New Jack Swing" era in urban music, and he stood out from the pack with his rhymes, typified by a positive vibe and a lightheartedness that endeared him to so many.
Salt, of Salt-N-Pepa, recalled touring with Heavy D & the Boyz, and said the rapper always told her: "I love you."
"He was a lifelong buddy to me," she said after the service. "Just now I realized how many lives he touched."
A fund has been set up to financially aid Heavy D's daughter; details were available on the website http://www.rememberheavyd.com.
Mesfin Fekadu covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/musicmesfin