Billy Preston's memory honored in Calif.
06/20/2006 8:20 PM, AP
Little Richard and Joe Cocker joined hundreds of friends and relatives of Billy Preston in celebrating his musical legacy during an upbeat funeral Tuesday.
A brass band played "Amazing Grace" during a service filled with tributes to the prolific songwriter and musician who played with the Beatles so often he was sometimes called the fifth member of the band.
Preston died June 6 in a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 59. He battled chronic kidney failure, received a kidney transplant in 2002 and had been in a coma since November.
"He made that piano walk and talk," Little Richard, who toured with Preston in the early 1960s, told the crowd that filled Faithful Central Bible Church's Tabernacle Worship Center. "There's nobody in this world who could play the piano like Billy Preston."
Cocker sang the ballad "You Are So Beautiful," which Preston wrote but was made famous by the raspy-voiced singer.
The mourners also heard letters written by Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and others who toured with Preston.
"I am deeply saddened to lose such a wonderful friend," McCartney wrote. "I love you Billy."
Bonnie Raitt, also in a letter, said Preston was "one of the most soulful artists I ever knew."
In addition to his healthy solo career, Preston toured and recorded with the Rolling Stones and performed in recording sessions with Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone and Bob Dylan.
A teen prodigy on the piano and organ, Preston lent his gospel-tinged touch to classics such as the Beatles' "Get Back" and the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?"
He broke out as a solo artist in the 1970s, winning a best instrumental Grammy in 1973 for "Outta Space," and scoring other hits with "Will It Go 'Round In Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing."
His duet with Syreeta Wright, "With You I'm Born Again," became a favorite at weddings.
In 1975, Preston sang on the debut of "Saturday Night Live."