CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Family, friends and fans gathered here Monday to bid farewell to country music star Mel Tillis. Tillis, 85, died Nov. 19.
Over the course of his six-decade career, he penned a number of now-classic country songs, including Detroit City and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town. As a recording artist, he took six songs to the top of the charts. He was a member of the Country Music and Nashville Songwriters halls of fame as well as the Grand Ole Opry, and in 1976 he was named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year.
His kind heart, unflagging optimism and strong faith were celebrated during the service at Mount Hermon Baptist Church, but it was Tillis’ famous sense of humor that carried the day.
The front page of the program proclaimed the memorial was “In Loving M-M-Memory" of Tillis; it was a nod to his lifelong stutter, which he used to comedic effect on stage and screen (he was also a longtime spokesman for the Stuttering Foundation). Before the funeral began, laughter filled the pews as fellow Opry stars and former bandmates traded anecdotes about the beloved entertainer.
“This has been a long day,” admitted his daughter, country singer Pam Tillis, during the funeral, which followed a three-hour visitation. To laughter and cheers, she added, “Daddy never did a short show, and I don’t see why we should.”
In her eulogy, she said that the outpouring of love the Tillis family has received from her father’s fans around the world has been “nothing short of amazing,” and read a letter from one of his most famous admirers: Dolly Parton.
Daughter Carrie Tillis, songwriter Bobby Tomberlin and two of Mel Tillis’ “Stutterettes” backup singers sang gospel music during the ceremony. Tomberlin's performance segued into Detroit City, and the entire room softly sang along to the chorus: "I want to go home, Oh Lord, I want to go home."
Tillis was laid to rest during a private burial service. Another memorial will be held in Nashville in January; details will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Tillis' suspected cause of death is respiratory failure.
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