Gerald Levert’s sendoff was tearful — and exuberant.
“When I came here, I expected to mourn,” Usher told thousands of fans who filled most of Public Hall for Friday’s three-hour memorial service for Levert, who died Nov. 10. Instead, he said: “I actually cried tears of joy.”
Stevie Wonder, Levert’s father, Eddie Levert of the O’Jays, and Levert’s music collaborator and brother, Sean Levert, led the audience in a cheering, foot-stomping, hand-clapping combination of memories, music and religious fervor.
“You all really don’t know how big his heart was,” said Eddie Levert.
He joined Sean for the heart-tugging highlight, singing “Dance With My Father” with father and brother personalizing the words for Gerald.
Levert’s framed picture was displayed on the stage and his father kissed the image to cap a thunderous version of his son’s signature hit, “Casanova,” performed with Sean and Gerald’s LSG partners, Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill.
Wonder said he was thankful for Levert’s gifts, especially his trademark message of love.
“I’m here for you, Gerald, because I love you,” said Wonder, clasping the hand of Eddie Levert, who sniffed back tears. “I’m here to celebrate my love.”
Eddie Levert said performing was Gerald’s great love. “That came from his heart, his soul, his whole body,” the father said.
Celebrities at the service included Usher, rapper-producer Jermaine Dupri, singer Angela Winbush, journalist Ed Gordon, and the main eulogist, Judge Greg Mathis.
Usher, speaking with reporters before the service, said Levert was always willing to encourage up-and-coming talent.
“He was like an uncle or a brother,” he said.
Levert died at his suburban Cleveland home at 40. A preliminary autopsy showed he had heart disease.
He was a member of the R&B trio LeVert, which also included his brother and childhood friend Marc Gordon. Their hits included “(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind” and “Casanova.”
Over his two-decade music career, Levert sold millions of albums and had numerous R&B hits.
His soulful voice powered his appeal and in 1991 he made his solo debut with the album “Private Line.” That included a hit duet with his dad, “Baby Hold on to Me.”