LATEST: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and CISSY HOUSTON hit the high notes yesterday (08JUL05) as friends and fans of Luther Vandross braved the rain in New York to say farewell to the soul great.

Usher, Alicia Keys, Dionne Warwick and writer Maya Angelou joined thousands who filled out Riverside Church for a celebration of Vandross' life.

While many mourned the sad loss, Vandross' pal Patti Labelle made sure it wasn't all doom and gloom.

Wearing a bright yellow dress and a diamond necklace, she said, "There are no sad faces here today. It's not a mournful service. I'm celebrating because Luther would want us to."

She then joked, "So many people have babies because of Luther Vandross," before reciting a poem written by the dead star's mother MARY IDA.

On a touching note, LaBelle ended her speech by recalling Vandross' final album DANCE WITH MY FATHER. She said, "Now I know you're dancing with your father."

Warwick read Vandross' obituary and a touching letter from Gladys Knight, who was unable to attend the service.

Before the memorial service, Vandross' casket was carried from a Manhattan funeral parlour, where it was on display earlier this week (beg04JUL05), through Harlem. There it stopped briefly outside the famed Apollo Theater - where Vandross made his debut as a teenager.

Vandross, 54, died last Friday (01JUL05) at a New Jersey hospital, two years after he suffered a debilitating stroke. He'll be buried in a golden casket at George Washington Memorial Park in New Jersey this weekend.

09/07/2005 01:39