Mourners Celebrate Life Of TLC Singer

Thousands of clapping, singing fans packed a suburban Atlanta church
Thursday to celebrate the life of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes in a funeral that resembled a concert.

Mourners filled the 10,500-seat New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to near capacity for a two-hour service one week after Lopes, part of the best-selling female trio TLC, was killed in a car crash in Honduras.

"I know in this situation it's difficult to rejoice at the passing of someone we loved," said the Rev. Eddie Long, pastor of the church. "But it would be a mockery of her life if we did not celebrate life."

The gospel duo Mary Mary and about 150 colorfully dressed choir members led mourners in song, and friends and family members paid tribute to Lopes, who was widely known as the most volatile member of the R&B trio.

"I have a name for her — the Lionhearted Little Lamb — because just as much as she was brave and tough and streetwise, she was gentle," said her aunt, Pamela Young. "She was gentle as a lamb."

The remaining members of TLC, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas, attended the funeral, along with a host of music industry stars, including singers Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and producer Kenneth "Baby Face" Edmonds.

Antonio Reid, president and CEO of Arista Records and one of TLC's producers, said Lopes was "one of the most creative people I ever met."

Reid said the challenge in working with Lopes was to separate her good ideas from her bad ones. Lopes came up with the title "FanMail" for TLC's most recent album in 1999, only to try changing the name just days before the album was to be released. The name stuck and the album topped the U.S. pop charts for five weeks, selling more than 8 million copies.

"Her creativity just flowed and flowed," Reid said during the service.

Some fans showed up hours in advance to get a seat at the funeral, which began at midday.

"You get a lot of artists out there that try to go with the flow, but Lisa was not a follower. She was a leader," said 28-year-old Shannelle Lewis of Stone Mountain, who arrived five hours before the service and was first in line.

Phyllis Robinson, 41, of Atlanta, who arrived at 8:30 a.m., said she admired Lopes for bringing a message of unity to a turbulent world.

"Her music just gave me a powerful edge as a female, and it was just very moving," she said. "She was just her own person."

Lopes, who would have turned 31 this month, was known for a troubled personal life and onstage antics that earned her a reputation as the "crazy one" of Grammy-winning TLC, which titled one of its albums "CrazySexyCool." Her bold rhymes and brash attitude sharply contrasted with the images of Watkins and Thomas.

She pleaded guilty to arson in a 1994 fire that destroyed the million-dollar mansion of former Atlanta Falcons receiver Andre Rison, her boyfriend at the time.

Rison was among hundreds who attended a private memorial service for Lopes on Wednesday night in Decatur, another Atlanta suburb.

"She was my heart," Rison told WSB-TV after leaving the service. "We're going to let her fly with wings like angels do. She's truly and definitely an angel."

In Sambo Creek, Honduras, residents celebrated the memory of a young woman who danced to Garifuna music, played volleyball with muchachos on the beach and shot pool in a one-room, tin-roof club called Billares Yancsy.

Policarpo David, a 42-year-old bus driver, blew a heartfelt kiss toward the sky at the mention of Lopes.

"Oooh, she was the most beautiful person," David said. "We always wondered what she was doing here. Why would she come here all the way from the United States, which has everything?"

For Lopes, it was precisely the lack of action here that seemed to attract her.

She first visited the area in 1999 to visit the Usha Nutrition Center, a compound of 13 whitewashed cement cabanas secluded at the base of lush green hills in the town of Jutiapa.

Two years ago, she persuaded her uncle Anthony Lopes to move there to look after a piece of land she had bought near the health spa. She planned to start building a house and a recording studio next year, said Anthony Lopes' girlfriend, 25-year-old Sambo Creek native Leslie Lambert.

"She liked Honduras a lot for its tranquility," Lambert said. "She came to relax from the pressures she had."

Lopes, born in Philadelphia, got her nickname from her habit of replacing one lens of her glasses with a condom during performances.