Country music legend George Jones was given a grand and gracious goodbye last Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House-and rightly so.
Thousands of Jones’ fans waited in long lines to join his family, fellow entertainers, and friends in paying tribute to the man whose voice defined and influenced traditional country music for more than half a century.
This was “A Celebration of George Jones’ Life-1931-2013.” And a remarkable life it was! Born dirt-poor in Saratoga, Texas, Jones rose to national and international fame on the wings of talent and tenacity. His wings were clipped by alcohol abuse and other problems along the way. But the love of his good wife, Nancy saved him from his demons-and faith in God’s amazing grace redeemed him.
For nearly three hours, the room was filled with love for George. In those fleeting moments, we were one big family, lamenting his death, but lauding his life and legacy.
I was surprised by the diversity of his loyal fan base. They came from around the state, around the nation, and around the world to pay their final respects to George Jones. Despite our diversity, we were unified in our respect for him and his music.
Thanks to the Grand Ole Opry management and staff, Nashville Metro Police and others, the program went well from start to finish. Announcers Keith Bilbrey and Eddie Stubbs kept the flow of tributes moving smoothly.
Tanya Tucker and The Imperials sang the opening hymn, “Old Rugged Cross.” Gov. Bill Haslam paid tribute to Jones. Pastor Mike Wilson gave the opening prayer. Randy Travis continued the musical tributes with a soulful vocal and guitar solo version of “Amazing Grace.” The Oak Ridge Boys sang sweet harmony on
“Farther Along.” Charlie Daniels sang “Softly and Tenderly” and recited a poignant paean to Jones. Travis Tritt sang “Why Me Lord” and Brad Paisley sang “Me and Jesus.”
Bob Schieffer, CBS Correspondent & “Face the Nation” Moderator paid tribute to Jones. Former First Lady Laura Bush remembered her teenage times in Texas, dumping quarters into the jukebox to hear Jones sing “The Race is On.”
Barbara Mandrell also spoke. Former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee delivered an excellent eulogy; so did Grand Ole Opry Manager Pete Fisher.
Vince Gill and Patty Loveless sang “Go Rest High On That Mountain.”
Their emotion-filled vocals and his virtuoso guitar playing earned them a standing ovation. Ronnie Milsap sang and played Jones’ “When The Grass Grows Over Me.” Wynona wowed the crowd with “How Great Thou Art.” Pastor Mike Wilson delivered the benediction.
Alan Jackson closed the program with an emotional rendition of Jones’ iconic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The taciturn artist let his talent do the talking and received a standing ovation. And then it was over. George Jones is gone in body, but his musical legacy lives on for the ages.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.