Private memorial service set for poet Maya Angelou

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —

Family, friends and famous admirers including first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey gathered for a weekend tribute to poet, orator and sage Maya Angelou.

PHOTO GALLERY: Maya Angelou remembered fondly at memorial service

Angelou was honored as a renaissance figure and one of the 20th century's most famous black writers at a private memorial service Saturday morning at Wake Forest University. Angelou died May 28 at age 86 after a remarkable life with important roles in civil rights and the arts.

Born into poverty and segregation, Angelou rose to become an accomplished actress, singer, dancer and writer. Although she never graduated from college, she taught for more than 30 years at the private North Carolina university, where she was regularly addressed as Dr. Angelou out of respect for all the honorary degrees she received.

Her magnetism also drew her into friendships with famous figures from Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela to Clinton and Winfrey

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco. Her life included writing poetry by age 9, giving birth as a single mother by 17, and becoming San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor. She also once danced at a strip joint, shared the stage with comic Phyllis Diller and garnered career advice from singer Billie Holiday. She wrote music and plays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries "Roots" and danced with Alvin Ailey.

Tall and majestic, Angelou added heft to her spoken words with a deep and sonorous voice, describing herself as a poet in love with "the music of language." She recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history, "On the Pulse of Morning," when Clinton opened his first term in 1993. She inspired many and became a mentor to Winfrey before she became a talk show host.

Angelou once worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met Mandela. In 1968, she was helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People's March in Memphis, Tennessee, where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou's 40th birthday.

Defoy Glenn, from Charlotte, who was Angelou's personal assistant for 25 years, will be there.

“I'm saddened by the memorial but I know it’s what must be done to have that final goodbye to a great lady, a great friend and loved one,” Glenn said.

The Wait Chapel on Wake Forest's campus prepared all week for Angelou's service.

Oprah Winfrey joined family there earlier this week to help organize the service and oversee the decoration of the chapel.

Channel 9 will also have a reporter at Wait Chapel to speak with people whose lives were touched by the iconic writer.

Read more about Maya Angelou:

View a special section on Maya Angelou

 Maya Angelou dies at age of 86

Images: Maya Angelou through the years

Timeline of Maya Angelou’s life