11/17/2008 at 01:00 AM EST
Throughout the Nov. 3 funeral for Jennifer Hudson's murdered mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, one thread served to unify, comfort and inspire more than a thousand mourners: music. The Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Choir performed four songs, and American Idol Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino unleashed a powerful rendition of the gospel classic "Your Grace and Mercy," during which she took Jennifer's hand. Finally Jennifer, 27, joined the chorus as mourners—including Oprah
Winfrey, Queen Latifah
and music producer Clive Davis—left Chicago's Apostolic Church of God. Says a family friend: "Jennifer sang along in the recessional 'I Go to the Rock.'"
The funeral came 10 days after Jennifer's mom, Darnell, and brother Jason were found murdered in their South Side home. Three days later police found the body of Jennifer's nephew Julian. Sister Julia's estranged husband, William Balfour, 27, remains a "person of interest" in the case and is now in custody for allegedly violating his parole. On Oct. 31 police confirmed that a .45-caliber handgun—found a block from the SUV where Julian's body was discovered—is in fact the murder weapon.
But at a Nov. 2 memorial service and at the subsequent funeral, the focus was on celebrating the victims' lives. Julian's classmates recalled his love of knock-knock jokes, Power Rangers and Spider-Man, while cousin Shari Sweat remembered Darnell as "gentle, special and loving." Says another cousin, Rev. Quentin Washington: "Their lives were not in vain. Their legacies live on."