Funerals are hard to plan, even when your loved one leaves instructions behind. If it’s your job to find the music for the day, and know they’d be after some classic music, the below should be a good fit for you.
Here are some traditional funeral songs to send your loved one off the right way.
1. Amazing Grace by Carrie Underwood
Song Year: 2021
“Amazing Grace” is a funeral classic for a reason. It’s a traditional funeral song anyone can sing, whether you hand it to a Gospel Choir, a soloist, or the congregation.
It’s full of poignant phrases and an achingly sweet melancholy that resonates with mourners everywhere. But it’s also hopeful. As much as it's about loss, it’s also about the strength of love and perseverance. Those are powerful things to hold onto when you’re grieving. They make the world a bit brighter and a bit more hopeful.
2. Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Family Band
Song Year: 2012
The first time we heard “Ashokan Farewell,” it was as a waltz cool-down in a dance class. It has the kind of melody that goes round and round endlessly, which is perfect for a relaxed end to an evening.
It’s also the perfect funeral song. The traditional melody is sweet, mournful, and soothing. It brings a touch of Scottish music to the service, making it ideal for ex-pats or long-time lovers of Scotland.
Here it’s rendered touchingly on strings, but it can sound equally elegant on bagpipes. It makes a beautiful and meaningful farewell for any funeral service.
3. On Eagle’s Wings by Michael Joncas
Song Year: 2020
Psalms play a vital role in more religious funeral services, and there are as many musical settings as there are composers. “On Eagle’s Wings” is an uplifting arrangement of Psalm 91.
It’s a setting designed to comfort mourners. It reminds people they are never truly alone, even when they feel cut off from the world.
It’s a great pick, especially in Catholic churches. But its soaring melody is suitable for any service. The music makes it sound like the phrases float just out of reach, not unlike the person you’ve lost. That gives them an element of optimism. We might feel alone, but when we need it, there's always someone to catch us and carry us away on eagle’s wings.
4. Blute Nur by Elly Ameling
It’s difficult to get more traditional than Bach when planning a funeral. Bach wrote music for every occasion, and he’s hard to beat when it comes to capturing the breadth of human emotion.
This traditional funeral song is part of a larger composition, St Matthew’s Passion. It’s all about the agony of loss and describes the painful sensation of heartbreak.
Bach’s music describes the feeling perfectly. It uses minor keys and intervals to convey the deep sadness of the speaker. Even if you can’t speak German, the music resonates deeply.
5. How Great Thou Art by Pentatonix
Song Year: 2018
“How Great Thou Art” is another versatile song. It has a high, soaring melody that reflects the song's scope. You often hear it at more religious funerals, where it’s an emotive and powerful reminder of God’s love for all his children, alive and dead.
It also helps remind grieving listeners that they are never truly alone. Not only that, but in a religious context, it serves as a reminder the God at the core of faith lost a child. That makes him ideally suited to comfort people when they need it.
Even without that context, the sweeping musical phrases and stunning high notes make this a moving song for funerals. There’s a lot more to the world than the people in it, and remembering that can help us rediscover some of its light and beauty in darker hours.
6. Danny Boy by The Celtic Women In Song
Song Year: 2005
Sung to the tune “The Londonderry Aire,” “Danny Boy ” is one of the best-known funeral songs.
Like many Irish folk songs, it has a haunting and melancholy melody.
In it, the speaker meditates on loss. Despite its lyrics, it’s not entirely sad. The speaker ends by suggesting that someday they will be reunited with their lost love. Until that happens, they will rest peacefully and content, confident they’ll meet again.
Irrespective of what you believe, it’s difficult not to find that premise of after-death reunion comforting. At a time when it can feel like you’ll never see your loved one again, the thought they’re peacefully waiting for you can be powerful.
7. I’ll Fly Away by Alison Krauss
Song Year: 2000
“I’ll Fly Away” first entered the popular consciousness when it appeared on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ever since it’s been a traditional funeral song.
The melody is atypically jaunty, and its lyrics remind listeners that while death always comes at the end, it doesn’t have to be sad. It can be, especially for the people left behind. But sometimes, especially if your loved one was in pain or felt they had lived too long, it can be like an old friend.
That’s how it comes to the speaker of this song. It’s an opportunity to finally rest and enjoy creature comforts they couldn’t on earth.
It’s a song designed to make listeners smile, and while that may seem unlikely for a funeral, it’s almost certainly how the person you lost would want to think of you.
8. Simple Gifts by The Utah Symphony Orchestra
Song Year: 2020
“Simple Gifts” is an old Shaker melody. It’s a traditional song that’s ideal for funerals because, like Ecclesiastes, it talks about there being a right place and time for everything.
It also transforms death from a shadowed, frightening place into one full of love, delight, and comfort. That’s something many mourners find reassuring.
The melody is haunting, but it's also sweet and tender. That’s true whether you hear it in the context of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring or as an unadorned folk melody. Both are beautiful songs.
9. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by Etta James
Song Year: 2002
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was first recorded in 1909. It’s older than that, though. It’s an African-American Spiritual that describes Elijah’s ascent into heaven.
It’s an uplifting song. Despite the minor intervals used to evoke a chariot descending to earth, it’s an optimistic meditation on what happens after death. The suggestion that your loved one is going home can be a comforting one because it takes some of the stings out of death.
It doesn’t make you miss them less. But it’s a potent reminder that sometimes death is harder for the people left behind. That makes it important to seize these slivers of comfort when they appear.
10. Michael Row The Boat Ashore by Pete Seeger
Song Year: 1963
Another spiritual that’s a popular and traditional funeral song is “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”
It describes a bright and hopeful future for our lost loved ones. Many find this song particularly soothing if they have watched their loved one battle the discomfort and pain of sickness. It reassures us that whatever discomfort they endured on earth won’t be there in this idyllic afterlife.
11. The Old Rugged Cross by Alan Jackson
Song Year: 2005
George Bennard wrote “The Old Rugged Cross” in 1912. Since then, its become one of the most traditional hymns for funerals.
It’s a potent reminder for many religious people that since God took our suffering on himself, their loved ones won't experience it themselves.
It’s also cathartic in the best tradition of old hymns. The lyrics are emotive, and their themes of suffering and loss resonate with grieving people everywhere, even if they aren’t religious.
12. The Water Is Wide by James Taylor
Song Year: 2007
A less religious funeral song is “The Water is Wide.”
The song speaks about the inevitable separation we feel when we lose someone. We still love them and may even still feel their presence close. However hard we try, we can’t follow them.
The melody is melancholy, and the lyrics are poignant, making it perfect for a funeral service.
13. Go Rest High On That Mountain by Vince Gill
Song Year: 1994
Incredibly, Gill only wrote “Go Rest High On That Mountain” in 1994. But it quickly became a traditional funeral song.
It might be shy of 30 years old, but it feels like a much older hymn. Stylistically, there’s something in it for everyone, whether you want a country song or conventional hymn.
There are even instrumental versions available if you want this song’s evocative phrasing without its more overtly religious lyrics. Remember, there’s no wrong choice at a funeral, and all these options are lovely.
14. When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder by The Statler Brothers
Song Year: 1994
It’s difficult not to find this classic hymn tune uplifting. Its melody is positively jaunty, and there’s a raucousness to the way the Statler Brothers sing it. It sounds joyful, and that may seem odd for a funeral.
But sometimes, we need something to puncture the gloom that comes with grief, and this song is guaranteed to do that. It reminds us that eventually we will all be reunited with our lost loved ones, and when we are, the day will be a happy one.
15. Chopin’s Funeral March by The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Song Year: 1975
Classical music is rife with funeral songs. Chopin’s funeral march is an excellent example.
It’s solemn and stately, bringing gravitas to the funeral service you are planning. It’s ideal for an introit or voluntary piece because its long, lugubrious phrases lend themselves to the silent contemplation many people find helpful at the beginning or end of a funeral.
But it also works as an instrumental interlude in the middle. How you integrate Chopin’s moving and reflective composition into your service doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you allow yourself space to remember the person you lost, and this music is a beautiful way to do that.
16. Going Home by The BYU Choir
Song Year: 2011
The melody for this traditional funeral song is familiar to many as the “Largo” movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. In 1922, his student set words to it, and that piece became “Going Home.”
It’s a gentle, moving meditation on death. Many people can find death daunting. That’s partly why we struggle when we lose someone. We have no idea what has happened to them, or how or if we will ever see them again.
The lyrics of “Going Home” reassure us that we don’t need to be afraid. Death can be as familiar and soothing as a long-awaited homecoming.
17. The Lark Ascending by The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Song Year: 2010
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” must be one of the most English pieces of music there is.
The floating phrases used in the song are tender and evocative of a lark in flight. What has that to do with death? Birds have a long history of being associated with the soul. It’s easy to listen to this and hear the gentle drifting of a soul into whatever comes next.
And because the music has such a smooth tonality, it becomes possible to put aside the agony and loss of grief and briefly feel hope that the person we love is out there, following the lark higher and higher into the stratosphere.
18. Schubert’s Ave Maria by Luciano Pavarotti
Song Year: 1994
There are many different settings of the “Ave Maria.” But Schubert’s, with its romantic phrasing and sweeping sentimentality, is perhaps the most popular setting.
It’s a heartfelt and powerful reminder that there’s always someone watching over you and the people you have lost.
19. Pachelbel’s Canon by Kanon Orchestre de Chambre
Song Year: 2009
Usually, people associate Pachelbel’s “Canon” with weddings. But its soothing and repetitive bassline makes it ideal for funerals, too.
It’s also incredibly full of feeling. The sudden crescendos and decrescendos make moving meditations on death.
20. Air on a G String by HAUSER
Song Year: 2020
As discussed, Bach wrote a composition for every occasion. “Air on a G String” wasn’t written to become a traditional funeral song. But for many people, it’s a funeral classic.
The slow, melancholy melody is wonderfully atmospheric. It’s also deeply soothing. It’s a powerful reminder that you can always find beauty in the world, even when you feel bereft. “Air on a G String” is an example of that beauty.
21. Abide With Me by The King’s College Choir
Song Year: 2011
Nothing is as funereal or traditional as “Abide With Me.” It’s a mournful hymn that ostensibly reflects on the close of the day.
Less literally, it’s about finding light in the darkness. Anyone who’s lost someone sympathizes with how impossible that feels. But when you do let the light in, you start feeling hope again, too.
22. They Can’t Take That Away From Me by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Song Year: 1956
This is another upbeat funeral song. The lyrics talk about everything we never truly lose, even when our loved ones leave us.
We may not be able to talk with them anymore, but there’s a wealth of memories you can cherish, even in amidst your grief. And though this song is ostensibly about losing a love more mundanely, many people find it perfect for funerals.
It’s suitably nostalgic, but it’s hopeful, too.
23. Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer by Charlotte Church
Song Year: 2001
“Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer,” sometimes called “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” is a traditional Welsh hymn that’s popular at funerals.
The title makes it sound like it’s a song about guiding the departed into the afterlife. But it’s much more than that. It’s also about allowing ourselves to lean on others in our grief and letting them guide us through the pain of losing someone.
24. Nearer My God To Thee by André Rieu
Song Year: 2013
This is another traditional funeral song that’s as much about the people left behind as the departed.
While undeniably our lost loved ones move nearer to God, so do the mourners who share that belief. By doing that we stay close to the people we lose, long after they’re gone.
It’s moving even for the less religious because it reminds us that however dark the hour is, we can always rely on other people for the support we need. That’s an important message, especially at funerals.
25. O For A Closer Walk With God by The Cambridge Singers
Song Year: 1992
The thing we love most about this song, as sung by The Cambridge Singers, is its tranquility. The music moves, but there is incredible stillness and profundity in the music. It invites you to sit in silence or anguish and be soothed. What could be more suitable for a funeral?
26. Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven by The Choir of Westminster Abbey
Song Year: 2008
The text of this traditional funeral hymn is based on Psalm 103. Famously, it featured at a young Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, but it was also a staple at funerals.
That’s because its lyrics are about restoring and healing people. At a time when you’re emotionally battered, that can be reassuring. Additionally, it’s a melody that can sound as somber or jubilant as you want. It’s a versatile hymn, suitable for every occasion.
27. Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind by The Salisbury Cathedral Choir
Song Year: 2013
Finally, “Dear Lord And Father of Mankind” is a popular funeral song for a reason.
It encourages listeners and singers to find comfort not in great cosmic thunderclaps but in those moments of peace. They can be few and far between when you’re grieving, so when they arrive, it’s worth making the most of them.
Crucially, it promises that you and the people you lost can eventually find peace, even if that seems incredible at the moment. That’s a comforting idea at a turbulent time.
Traditional Funeral Songs, Final Thoughts
Traditional songs for funerals come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They might be hymns or classical compositions. Or they might be traditional folk songs and spirituals.
Always remember there’s no wrong option when choosing funeral selections. If it means something to you or the person you lost, that’s all that matters. Music is a vital way to connect with your lost loved ones and rediscover some beauty in life along the way. Hopefully, these funeral selections help you do that.