George Jones Laid to Rest in Nashville
Friends, family and fans of the late George Jones gathered at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville Thursday (May 2) to celebrate the life of the iconic singer, who passed away last Friday at the age of 81.
Though the funeral service was open to the public, broadcast live on multiple television networks and streamed online, what could have devolved into a garish media circus actually turned out to be a remarkably genuine, heartfelt sendoff for the legendary singer, due in no small part to the music that dominated the event.
Several generations of country's finest participated in the service, either by sharing their stories about Jones, paying musical tribute to him, or both. Barbara Mandrell recalled meeting the legend when she was a 14-year-old girl, then joining him on stage shortly thereafter.
In sharp contrast to the slick prepared remarks of dignitaries like Gov. Bill Haslam, First Lady Laura Bush and Gov. Mike Huckabee -- all of whom shared their personal stories of Jones -- superstar Kenny Chesney spoke haltingly and genuinely of the singer, whom he called "a father figure." Other speakers, including Jones' pastor, painted a portrait of a man who was not only loved for his music, but for his private generosity and willingness to help others.
Musical luminaries including Tanya Tucker, the Oak Ridge Boys, Randy Travis and Charlie Daniels all performed traditional gospel songs in tribute to Jones, while Ronnie Milsap sang 'When the Grass Grows Over Me.' Travis Tritt delivered a standout version of Kris Kristofferson's 'Why Me Lord,' and Brad Paisley dropped his affable performing persona for a dead-on version of Tom T. Hall's 'Me and Jesus' that was another highlight.
Kid Rock turned in a surprisingly sweet song he wrote called 'Best of Me,' which he dedicated to Jones' wife of 30 years, Nancy, asking her to imagine that it was Jones singing it to her. "That's a big imagination, I know," the singer quipped.
But it was Vince Gill and Patty Loveless who provided perhaps the most wrenching -- and ultimately beautiful -- moment, with an emotionally shattered Gill dropping out vocally mid-song during 'Go Rest High on That Mountain,' leaving Loveless to soldier on alone before recovering to bring the last verse home.
Wynonna Judd also brought the house down with a full-on gospel rendition of 'How Great Thou Art' before Alan Jackson closed out the show -- fittingly -- with a faithful rendition of 'He Stopped Loving Her Today.'
Of the many who gathered to share their observations of Jones, nobody put it better than Grand Ole Opry General Manager Pete Fisher, who said -- in reference to Jones' hit 'Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes' -- "Nobody will fill George's shoes ... but we'll all be walking in his footsteps for years to come."