The funeral service for country singer George Jones on Thursday in Nashville was as richly emotional as the songs with which he built his reputation as one of the greatest vocalists in country history, through sung and spoken tributes from a full slate of musicians, political figures and friends.
“I’ve been very lucky to walk through this world with my George, and on that walk we’ve heard few sounds more lovely than the voice of George Jones,” former First Lady Laura Bush said during the three-hour service that was broadcast around the world by satellite and over the Internet. “His music is a beautiful gift to the world, and it will always bring back beautiful memories.”
CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent, Bob Schieffer, who like Jones was born and grew up in Texas, said: “God made just one like him, but aren’t we glad he did?”
Jones died April 26 in Nashville at age 81. Musicians who performed during the service at the Grand Ole Opry, where Jones had been a member since 1956, included Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless, Charlie Daniels, Kid Rock, Ronnie Milsap, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, the Oak Ridge Boys, Wynonna Judd and Brad Paisley.
Other speakers included Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kenny Chesney, Barbara Mandrell, Grand Ole Opry Vice President and General Manager Pete Fisher and Jones’ pastor, the Rev. Mike Wilson.
"We have lost a national treasure," Judd said before she sang the gospel song "How Great Thou Art."
Many of the participants referenced Jones’ 1985 hit in which he saluted the country greats who had preceded him, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.”
“It’s my belief they don’t make those shoes anymore,” Gill said before starting a duet with Loveless on “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” which both vocalists delivered through tears.
Tritt sang Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” which asks, “Why me Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known?”
Leading into the song, Tritt recalled learning of the death of Jones’ most celebrated duet partner, and his former wife, Tammy Wynette, while in Spain on tour in 1998 with Willie Nelson and Kristofferson. He remembered telling Kristofferson he wouldn’t have believed that Jones, for all his notorious bouts with alcohol and drugs, would have outlived her, and Kristofferson’s reply, “Without Nancy, he wouldn’t have.”
That was a reference to Jones’ third wife, Nancy Sepulvado, who is widely credited with inspiring him to get sober during the last three decades of his life. She sat in the front row of the Opry House, near the casket heaped with white roses, with other family members on her left and Bush on her right.
Before his performance, Paisley said, “I know there are a lot of TV networks covering this today, and there are probably a lot of young people watching and you must be thinking, ‘Wow, they’re really making a ruckus about this guy.’ I would encourage you if you don't know about him, go find him now. Go buy his records and see what all this ruckus is about, because it’s worth it.
"I just have to say,” Paisley said of the redemptive facet of the last third of Jones’ life, "that he’s an inspirational story for all of us. If that man can live to 81 years old, we can all beat the things that bring us down."
Songs performed were a mix of numbers associated with Jones, among them Milsap’s version of “When the Grass Grows Over Me,” and gospel numbers that were favorites of his, including Travis’ performance of “Amazing Grace,” Daniels’ rendition of “Jesus Is Coming Soon” and Judd’s delivery of “How Great Thou Art.”
Jackson got the closing number, hinting at Jones’ pinched vocal style as he sang “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” his signature weeper about a man who doesn’t let go of his love for an ex until his dying day.
The service was carried live by several Tennessee television and radio stations and broadcast on CMT, GAC, RFD and FamilyNet cable channels, and webcast over the Opry’s website.
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