Thursday, November 1, 2007
– By Jeffrey B. Remz
The life of Porter Wagoner was celebrated Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry where he was a member for 50 years in a funeral that featured many music selections from some of country's finest.
Wagoner, 80, died Sunday night after a short battle with lung cancer.
A rotating series of large photographs of Wagoner, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, was featured at the center of the Opry stage with Porter's musk wafting through the Opry.
"I think this is probably a real sad day for everybody except Porter," said his long-time singing partner Dolly Parton in leading a Grand Ole Opry chorus of the closing song of the 70-minute funeral, "I Saw the Light." "We'll all miss him."
Perhaps the musical highlight of the service was a very heartfelt rendition of "Go Rest High On That Mountain" delivered by Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs. Gill said he was told that was the last song Wagoner ever heard.
While Two Rivers Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Jerry Sutton officiated, those doing the singing delivered most of the memories of Wagoner.
Gill said, "When I heard of Porter's passing Sunday night, I started thinking about my friend and all the fun times we had out there. The very first person I ever saw singing country music in my life was Porter Wagoner."
Gill recalled how every Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., he and his father would watch the Porter Wagoner show.
Much later in life, Gill asked his father to sing a Wagoner song, but his father claimed he couldn't remember any. Gill scoffed at that idea. His father told him that while the future country star was watching Wagoner, "I was looking at Dolly."
Other performers included Marty Stuart, who did two songs, including "Angels Rock Me to Sleep."
Long-time members of the Wagonmasters, Wagoner's backup band, Fred Newell, Rick Money and Danny Davis performed "Rank Stranger." Ricky Skaggs and the Whites did "He Took Your Place" with Buck White doing lead vocals. White said, "Porter always loved this song, and we all loved him."
The Carol Lee Singers performed "Precious Memories," while Oak Ridge Boy Duane Allen sang "When I Sing For Him" with some of the Carol Lee Singers. Allen said that Wagoner told him, "'You hear all the stories about Porter Wagoner, but this is how I feel'. Every time I'd see Porter until his death, he would ask me to sing a verse" with Wagoner responding.
The funeral attracted a slew of country performers including Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Bill Anderson, Steve Wariner, Ralph Emery, Ernie Ashworth and Helen Cornelius. The funeral was open to the public.
Burial followed the service in a nearby cemetery.