An Extraordinary Life Worth Celebrating: Diahann Carroll Receives A Star-Studded Memorial
Joseph Rodman

“My mother did all of this so we could soar,” said Suzanne Kay, Diahann Carroll’s daughter, who called upon many of her mother’s dearest friends to pay tribute to the late actress who passed away on October 4.

Last Sunday, at the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York City, Lenny Kravitz (who called her “Aunt D”), Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Jr., Lynn Whitfield, Cicely Tyson and more came together and offered poems, accolades, memories and songs in celebration of the way Carroll touched their lives.

Leslie Odom, Jr. performs “For All We Know”
Photo: Joseph Rodman

From the stage, celebrities gave glimpses into the impactful—and always glamorous—life Carroll lead, on screen and off. Recalling their time filming Eve’s Bayou, Lynn Whitfield said the experience was “unbelievably surreal, humbling and so exciting.” However, Carroll was not keen on her aged, fortune teller look. “She did not like having grey hair and steamy, Louisiana swampy, bayou make up. In between takes, she’d go into her trailer and come back radiant,” Whitfield remembers, with a laugh.

Dionne Warwick, who was unable express her condolences in person, sent an audio clip of her favorite memory with Carroll. “I wanted to be the same thing she was, I wanted to do what she did, and I wanted to do it in places that she did,” said Warwick on being inspired by Carroll’s groundbreaking career from afar. However, there’s one lesson she learned straight from the star herself. “You know I don’t wear make up when I don’t have to. I was in the supermarket where she was, and all of sudden I hear this voice saying, ‘little girl!’, that’s what she always called me,” recalls Warwick. “I turned around and there was the most glamorous woman and we all know it’s Diahann Carroll and she wanted to know what I was doing in that grocery store without make up.”

Lenny Kravitz reflects on growing up with Diahann Carroll in the late 1970s.
Photo: Joseph Rodman

There were plenty of intimate moments Carroll (née Carol Diann Johnson) shared with her celebrity-filled circle of friends who became family. Grammy winning artist Lenny Kravitz shared: “Sometimes family isn’t defined by blood. I had the pleasure of calling Diahann Carroll Aunt D. What an honor bestowed upon a little boy who was obsessed with watching Julia, years before we ever met,” he said.

In 1977, Kravitz’s mother Roxie Roker relocated her family from New York City to Los Angeles to begin starring in The Jeffersons. “I was worried LA would be a lonely, mysterious place because I was being uprooted from Manhattan—where I was about to be a king: a sixth grader—and my family and friends. What I didn’t know is that there was a family waiting for us, with open arms, in Los Angeles and Aunt Diahann was at the center of it as she was the center of everything…”

Kravitz continued: “Diahann Carroll was a pioneer who forever changed the status quo, especially for women of color. The vision she had for herself set a precedent that still holds today. She saw the future and it began then. As we celebrate the life of an extraordinary person, and her incredible accomplishments, I’m personally touched the deepest by the love our chosen family shared, which remains until this day.”

See below for more moments from Carroll’s memorial, which included musical performances by Denée Benton, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Dianne Reeves.

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