The hearts of country music fans around the world were broken last November when Mel Tillis passed away from respiratory failure after having been ill for some time. The country music icon was laid to rest with a service in his home state of Florida last year. But on Jan. 31, a public memorial and celebration of his life was held in Nashville to honor and remember the beloved singer-songwriter.
As tender as our healing hearts still are, Mel’s daughter, Pam, was able to find the beauty in this final farewell.
The singer-songwriter, who so lovingly followed in her father’s footsteps, spoke to Nashville’s local CBS affiliate, NewsChannel 5, after the service and told them, “You could feel the emotion in the room. We felt Dad’s presence. We think he was proud.” Pam’s sister, Carrie, added, “It was a beautifully moving tribute. Everybody had their stamp on it.”
The two-hour memorial was led by longtime country television host Ralph Emery, and included performances from both Pam and Carrie, as well as Mel’s son, Sonny, Mel’s band, the Statesiders and longtime friends like Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Skaggs, Ira Dean, Daryle Singletary, the Gatlin Brothers, Ray Stevens, Collin Raye, Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson. Among the stars watching from the audience were Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, according to NewsChannel 5.
Of course, in addition to the artists performing songs from Mel’s vast catalog, several also shared stories of the legend’s generosity, kindness and zany sense of humor. Jamey actually admitted that some of the stories weren’t appropriate for a radio broadcast (the service aired on Nashville’s WSM-AM), but he did manage to recall one for those listening, and it involved an outhouse and a jacket that was accidentally dropped in the hole.
In addition to Pam, Carrie and Sonny, Mel left behind children Connie, Cindy Shorey and Hannah Purer, six grandchildren, a great-grandson, two siblings, his longtime partner Kathy DeMonaco and the mother of five of his children, Doris Tillis. He also left behind a legacy of country music that includes songs we all know and love, like “I Ain’t Never,” “I Believe In You,” and “Coca-Cola Cowboy.”
Then there’s that stutter. Mel’s speech disorder developed in his childhood after a bout with malaria. And while many would have considered it an impediment, Mel overcame it, discovering that when he sang, the stutter disappeared. He even made the distinction a part of his act, introducing his flair for comedy and timing into his show with self-deprecating zingers.
Mel once joked that if he could change, he hoped he would learn how to talk. And while his pal Waylon Jennings replied, “You’d be broke if you did,” the late hit songwriter Jerry Reed said, “The world wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be a world.”
Amen to that, Jerry.
Our prayers remain with Mel’s family, friends and fans as they continue to heal from their difficult loss.