April 17, 2024

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Buzz The Music

Loretta Lynn, Paul Kwami and other Nashville greats we lost in 2022

The population and proximity of musical creatives in Nashville unify Music City like a family. Thus, when Nashville loses one of its musical stars, like any family, the city mourns in remembrance.

Though genres diverge, the work accomplished by the city’s artists leaves legacies equal to the lives they lived.

2022 saw pillars of many genres — country and gospel among them — pass away. Stalwart forces key to the artistic communities they loved and were blessed to work within also died.

The Tennessean honors these music industry forces who died in 2022.

Ralph Emery (died Jan. 15)

Walter Ralph Emery, Country Music Hall of Fame broadcaster who locals remember for hosting TNN prime-time talk show “Nashville Now,” died at age 88.

The broadcast star was known nationwide for his informal, relaxed hosting style and candid interviews with country music stars. He is widely credited with extending country music’s reach throughout the nation during his 50-year career.

Beegie Adair (died Jan. 23)

Jazzmania Honorary Chairman Beegie Adair.

Jazz pianist Bobbe “Beegie” Long Adair — a revered figure in Nashville’s jazz scene for 60 years — died at age 84.

She made more than 35 albums with bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown, known as the Beegie Adair Trio. The group held residencies throughout Nashville for nearly 30 years, including stints at Loew’s Vanderbilt Plaza, Bennett’s Corner, F. Scott’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar and most recently Nashville Jazz Workshop. 

“The jazz situation here, contrary to other places, I think it’s probably in the best shape it’s ever been in,” she told The Tennessean in 2012. “Certainly, the community has more world-class musicians that have moved here for various things — very strong players.”

Naomi Judd (died April 30)

Grammy-winning country vocalist Naomi Judd — one half-of mother-daughter duo The Judds — died at age 76 a day before she and daughter Wynonna Judd entered the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The duo achieved 14 No. 1 hits over three decades, splitting as a performing act in 1991 after doctors diagnosed Naomi Judd with hepatitis. Between 1984 and 1991 alone, the Judds had 20 Top 10 hits, and tallied five Grammys, nine CMA Awards and seven ACM Awards.

Since arriving in Music City in 1979, Naomi Judd — and her family — were foundational staples of country music’s continued pop evolution through the 1980s and beyond.

Deborah McCrary (died June 1)

Deborah McCrary with the McCrary Sisters performs with the McCrary Sisters on the first day of the 895 Fest on Friday, May 31, 2019, at Hop Springs Beer Park, in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Deborah McCrary, a member of venerated Nashville vocal group The McCrary Sisters, died at age 67.

With her sisters, McCrary sang on stage or in the studio with dozens of stars in country, Americana, rock and blues. Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, The Black Keys, Donnie McClurkin, Sheryl Crow, Maren Morris and Gregg Allman were among those who sought out their rich, soulful harmonies. 

The McCrary Sisters are the daughters of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary, a pastor and key member of Nashville gospel quartet The Fairfield Four.

Dr. Paul T. Kwami (died Sept. 10)

Dr. Paul T. Kwami, revered music director of the world-renowned, Grammy-winning Fisk Jubilee Singers for 28 years, died at age 70.

During his tenure, Kwami led the Fisk Jubilee Singers — Nashville’s longest-running musical institution — into a celebrated modern era. Founded in 1871, the touring group was the first to introduce “negro spirituals” to an international audience. Over a century later, Kwami took them to unscaled peaks.

In 2021, they won their first Grammy award for the “Celebrating Fisk” album, recorded live on stage at the Ryman Auditorium. They returned to the stage that same year to celebrate their 150th anniversary.

Loretta Lynn (died Oct. 4)

Loretta Lynn, who rose from a hardscrabble upbringing to become one of the most culturally significant female singer-songwriters in country music history, died at age 90.

Many of Lynn’s songs are filled with the specifics of her wholly unique life, yet they had a universal appeal. She wrote about intimate matters — from her difficult, wearying childhood to fights with her husband — yet managed to strike a collective nerve. And without ever mentioning politics or women’s liberation, her songs helped to change long-held notions about gender roles. “Rated ‘X’” and “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” were personal pleas — not political treatises — that sought an end to double standards.

Lynn did all this at a time when women were most often the voices through which men’s words and melodies were heard. She was Nashville’s first prominent woman to write and record her own material, and was one of the first female music stars to generate her own hits.

Leslie Jordan (died Oct. 24)

Leslie Jordan dances during the filming of the music video “Let It Slide," at Eastside Bowl in Nashville , Tenn., Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.

Without Leslie Jordan, the neon lights in Nashville don’t glow quite as bright. Jordan, a small-sized entertainer with a mighty appetite for making a room laugh, died after a car wreck in Los Angeles. He was 67.

A Chattanooga native, Jordan spent his final years tearin’ up Nashville red carpets in bedazzled suits and praising his favorite singer-songwriters from onstage at the Ryman Auditorium.

Jerry Lee Lewis (died Oct. 28)

Though he’ll be chiefly remembered as a pioneer of rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis – who died at age 87 – was no less connected with country music and Nashville, from his pre-fame days to his final turn in the spotlight.

When The Tennessean asked Lewis about his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame — which occurred in October, “The Killer” responded with a rare understatement.

“It’s been a while coming. But we’re thankful for it.”

From the moment his breakthrough single “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On” rattled the airwaves in 1957, Lewis was also an immediate country star. That’s because as radical as they sounded at the time, “Shakin’” and its piano-pounding follow-up “Great Balls of Fire” both managed to top the country charts. Lewis would go on to record the songs of Hank Williams, Roger Miller and Charlie Rich in his early years.

Jeff Cook (died Nov. 7)

Jeff Cook of Alabama performs during the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam XX: A Tribute to Charlie at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Jeff Cook, a co-founding member of the trendsetting Country Music Hall of Fame band Alabama, died after a public battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 73.

As a guitarist, fiddle player and vocalist in Alabama, Cook  alongside cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry  helped sketch a blueprint for what a hitmaking band can achieve in country music. He and the band filled in that sketch with a slew of hits now considered by many to be essential country music listening: “Song of the South,” “Mountain Music,” “I’m In A Hurry,” “Cheap Seats” and “My Home’s In Alabama,” among many others.

Peter Cooper (died Dec. 6)

Peter Cooper, performing at the Station Inn in 2015.

Peter Cooper, an award-winning country music journalist and Grammy-nominated musician, died after suffering a head injury from a fall. He was 52.

A native of South Carolina, Cooper moved to Nashville in the year 2000, joining The Tennessean as a music writer. He soon established himself as a brilliant, unmistakable voice in country music criticism, filling his stories with earned insight, gentle wit and a well-placed baseball reference.