I never knew Diana Wilkinson, but I have heard about her from many people who remembered her as a warm, engaging, amazing woman. A woman whom, once you meet, you never forget. People who never knew her learned about her through the video clip of her beautifully singing “That’s The Way of The World.” An NBC cameraman with Ryan’s party in Jonestown shot the footage the night before her death, introducing the world to a woman with talent, dreams, goals, visions, dispelling negative myths about the people of Jonestown. Her voice left a strong, long-lasting impression on people. Her warmth, magnetic aura, and the way she put her heart and soul into her song described a lot about the woman. She so artistically displayed in her singing the pain, hope, and strength of her life and the people of Jonestown.
Though only in her 20’s when she died, Diana experienced more in her life than most who’ve lived longer lives. Her story reads almost like that of legendary singer Billie Holiday. Diana suffered abuse during her troubled childhood, most notably when her parents burned the side of her face with hot scalding water. She was always self-conscious about the scarring resulting from that incident. Without any parental guidance, she got involved in a demoralizing way of life while in her teens, and turned to prostitution. In the early 70’s, sad and broken, she became attracted to Peoples Temple, which was, as she said, “the only place that I have found that freedom and opportunity to become somebody in my life.” In Peoples Temple, she found the love and support she never knew. She evolved from a wildflower to a rose. She dedicated her life to Peoples Temple. One could always find her making music to bring entertainment to her fellow members, helping as a second mother to the young children, and building Jonestown.
Diana was definitely a woman who dedicated herself to anything she believed wholeheartedly in. She was described as a kind, observant, direct, down to earth, and inspiring woman. She was a proud woman who wanted freedom and respect and didn’t believe in begging for it. As a proud lesbian who never hid the fact, she was also ahead of her time.
But she will be most remembered for her musical talent, a gifted singer who also played piano excellently. And on November 17, it was her voice singing through a chaotic atmosphere that brought comfort to the people of Jonestown, gave a humanized view of the community, and showed the world what Jonestown had been and what it could have become.
Diana never became an international musical, but her talent and aura was too big to just be kept in Peoples Temple. Many around the world have been touched by her talent and see her as the woman she was, a woman with her own identity. Diana Wilkinson is a woman you never forget once you witness her essence and her beautiful soul. Those will live on forever.
(Videos of the NBC footage appear on YouTube at several locations, including here, here, and here.)