White House mourns Maya Angelou

05/28/2014 3:41 PM

05/28/2014 3:54 PM

President Barack Obama paid tribute Wednesday to poet Maya Angelou, noting she had inspired his mother to name his sister, Maya.

Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama, considered Angelou, who died aged 86, “one of the brightest lights of our time” and a “brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.

“Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer,” Obama said in a statement. “But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.”

Obama, who presented Angelou in 2011 with the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said he and the first lady “will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya.

“With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” he said. “And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”

Angelou lent her name to an Obama fund raising pitch in 2012: “Since President Barack Obama's historic election, we've moved forward in courageous and beautiful ways,” she said in an email sent from his campaign.

Former President Bill Clinton, who had Angelou read a poem at his 1993 inauguration -- the first poet to do so since Robert Frost read a poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 -- said America lost a national treasure and he and former first lady and secretary of state Hillary had lost "a beloved friend.

“The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace," he said.

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