Thursday, May 2, 2013
– The life and times - for better and for worse - of George Jones were celebrated at a memorial service today at the Grand Ole Opry.
Starting with Tanya Tucker and The Imperials leading off the 2 ½-hour-service with The Old Rugged Cross to the closing of Alan Jackson singing what people call the greatest country song of all time , He Stopped Loving Her Today, the public heard from the likes of Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock, former First Lady Laura Bush, Govs. Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Mick Huckabee of Arkansas and others.
The service was also punctuated by songs from Vince Gill and Patty Loveless, Wynonna, The Oak Ridge Boys, Travis Tritt and Ronnie Milsap.
Jones, who many consider the greatest country singer of all time, died at 81 last Friday.
"We all wanted to sing like George Jones, but no one could sing like George Jones unless you were George Jones," said CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, a long-time country music fan from Texas. "You couldn't because you hadn't been through what he'd been through."
Speakers talked about his humble beginnings in Texas to a poor family with a father who drank too much. Jones overcame his upbringing to score hits starting in the 1950's. His recordings with Tammy Wynette were part of his legacy, along with his marriage to her.
But as a number of speakers noted, Jones also was on the downslide due to problems with drinking and drugs. That all changed when he met his current wife, Nancy, whom he married about 30 years ago. Several speakers pointed out how Jones often credited Nancy with saving his life. Others talked about his kindness in helping others.
Among those remarking about Nancy Jones was Travis Tritt, who also sang Why Me Lord. Tritt recalled a story of being in Spain filming a movie with Kris Kristofferson when they learned that Wynette had died.
Travis talked with Kristofferson about her death. "With all the years of hard living that George had, who would have thought he would have outlived Tammy? Kris looked at me and said, 'If it had not been for Nancy, he would not have."
Brad Paisley referred to the support that Jones gave young artists over the years. He talked about buying a horse, even though he lived in a condominium in Brentwood, Tenn., but Jones told him he could board it at his farm.
Paisley looked to Jones' life as a model of perseverance and overcoming life's challenges. "I have to say he's an inspirational story to all of us if that man can live to 81 years old. (You) can fight the things that bring you down," said Paisley.
Chesney commented that not only did he grow up with Jones playing on the car radio on the way to school as a kid, but he also got to know him as a country singer. "I wanted to thank George for being George, for showing me how to be human," said an emotional Chesney in measured words. "I love George Jones like a father. He inspired all of us with his music."
Prior to singing How Great Thou Art, Wynonna said, "We have lost a national treasure," Judd said.
Soon, it was time for Jackson, a direct disciple of Jones, to sing the song that brought Jones' career back to life in 1980.