Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Remembering Gail Kerr, Nashville's Last City Columnist

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 8:17 PM

In the late summer of 1983, I was told by my new editor at the Nashville Banner to head on over to the Metro Courthouse and start covering it. Off I went. And within a very short period of time, I found myself meeting my competitor, who had been described to me as a dumb and vicious and mean-spirited creature, one who embodied all that was wrong in American journalism.

Thus did I meet Gail McKnight. To those who knew her, you can appreciate the joke.

Obviously, I was never able to hate Gail McKnight, later Gail Kerr. How would that have been possible? How could one have even mildly disliked the woman? For the smiling, joking, always sunny, perennially positive, dead-straight honest reporter and columnist Gail Kerr, one could feel nothing but kinship, friendship, even love. I know that's how I felt. And the city felt the same way.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ted Welch, Blockbuster GOP Fundraiser, Dies at 80

Posted By on Sat, Mar 8, 2014 at 6:10 PM

It has been said many times, and in many places, that the most feared words in the English language were: "Ted Welch is holding on line 1." The person answering the phone was about to get the full-on fundraising pitch from one of the most driven, effective, and sought-after Republican fundraisers in the nation.

That assiduous talent, for which Welch was best known, was less in evidence in recent years as he grew older and struggled with memory loss. This morning, the 80-year-old Welch died from complications related to a fall.

An impressively dapper individual and a former college football player whose ramrod straight posture radiated a raw zeal and gung-ho confidence, Welch may have looked like a million bucks. But he certainly wasn't born that way. A native of Parsons, Tenn., Welch attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, then cut his teeth on sales the same way as a number of other well-known Republicans (Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Tennessee Republican Party heavyweight Dortch Oldham among them): selling Bibles door-to-door for the Nashville-based Southwestern Publishing Company.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

John Egerton, 1935-2013

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 11:04 AM

John Egerton, one of Nashville's most esteemed literary figures and a conscience to the city and the nation, died this morning of a heart attack, family members confirmed to He was 78.

Words fail us.

Mr. Egerton — something I could never help but call him, though with mild consternation he would always correct me with "John" — was a man of great passion, despite his soft-spoken demeanor. On issues where the South was lagging in progress, from civil rights to poverty, he was dauntless and unwavering, whether he was tackling the problem of "food deserts" in impoverished communities or charting the early fight against segregation in his landmark 1994 book Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

But he was just as adamant about preserving and protecting the region's timeless legacies — its food and folklore — from the strip-mall predations of the New South. His hugely influential 1984 book Southern Food urged Southerners to take pride in their family diners, small-town eateries, soul-food joints and handed-down recipes. Not only was it a cornerstone of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which he co-founded in 1999, it led directly to the prominence and esteem Southern chefs (and cuisine) have claimed nationally in recent decades.

Just this past June, he delivered a eulogy for his great friend, Rev. Will D. Campbell, that ranked with the most eloquent and evocative writing he'd ever done. In it, Egerton might well have written his own epitaph:

What set him apart was this: he had an uncanny knack for reaching into people’s hearts, for making them feel they were important to him, they mattered. The poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the untouchables felt that he cared about them. He earned the trust and respect of African American leaders in the South and nation at a time when trust was at a premium for anyone, anywhere. He was an ally of the working class—farmers, laborers, the service industry on whose shoulders all of us now rest. … The word-and-picture people, we of the ink-and-paper trades, considered him a fellow addict. He belonged to us all, and we to him.

So we have come to this place, this time — and the last words are his.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

State Rep. Lois DeBerry Has Passed Away

Posted By on Sun, Jul 28, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Long-time Democratic state Rep. Lois DeBerry, of Memphis, died Sunday afternoon, at 68, after facing pancreatic cancer for nearly five years. She was the longest serving member in the state House of Representatives.

From the Associated Press over at The City Paper:

DeBerry continued to fight the disease for nearly two more years. Even when her doctors told her there was no more they could do, she still attended legislative meetings and worked to address the needs of her constituents.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said her resilience in her final days was "unbelievable."

"We'd say, why is she doing this? It's got to be painful, it's got to be very stressful on her," the Ripley Democrat said. "She was one of a kind, there's no question."

DeBerry was the second African-American woman to serve in the General Assembly. She was preceded by the late Dr. Dorothy L. Brown, who was elected in 1967.

Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, said women like Brown and DeBerry inspired other African-American women to run for office.

"Lois DeBerry ... made us feel like it was possible to be in politics and that you can be a strong voice in a male-dominated world," said Camper, who is black.

Read the entire piece here.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Chapter 16: John Egerton Remembers Will D. Campbell

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Our friends at have posted the text of journalist John Egerton's eulogy of civil rights activist and preacher (and more) Will D. Campbell, from a memorial service on June 22 at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

An excerpt:

On the second of August, 1965, I started to work for a magazine in Nashville. I had just turned thirty and moved with my wife and two children from Florida. The magazine was housed in a rambling old residence near the Peabody College campus, and my second-floor office, formerly a closet with a window, was barely big enough for a desk and chair, plus a second chair wedged into one corner.

I had met all my fellow staff members that morning and been given a warm welcome and my first assignment, which I was busily researching when the noon hour arrived. I heard a bump-bump-bump on the stairs just outside my doorway, and looked up to see a denim-clad, bespectacled man with a tumble of wavy locks dangling beneath the broad brim of a huge black hat. He stood there looking quizzically at me, whistling under his breath. I noticed that he was leaning on a carved walking cane, and one of his pants legs was canted into the top of a calf-high leather cowboy boot. I couldn’t keep from staring at the guy. He looked to be about sixty years old (he was, in fact, just forty-one), and mischievous, somehow, with the slightest hint of a sneer on his lips.

“You the new boy, huh?” he finally said, looking me over with what I felt was an air of disapproval. I stuttered an affirmative answer, and then he hit me again with another direct question:

“You cut hair?”

“Uh, well, no sir, I never have.”

“You’re not saying you can’t?”

“Uh, no sir, I just never have…. I guess I could, if I had to.”

He pulled the extra chair from the corner and put it in the doorway, facing out. Sitting down, he removed his hat and said over his shoulder, “You got some scissors in your desk, don’t you? All journalists got a pair of scissors.” I scrambled through the drawers and came up with the needed tool. “Just trim it around the back of my neck a little,” he directed. And so, within the next few minutes—before we had even exchanged names or the obligatory “Where you from?” line—I had become the new barber to Will Davis Campbell, and we had set out on a friendship that would last a lifetime.

Do read Egerton's entire remembrance here.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The City Paper: The Rev. Will D. Campbell Dead at 88

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 4:16 PM

The City Paper reports that the Rev. Will D. Campbell, a renowned Nashville clergyman, author and civil rights activist, died yesterday at 88 from complications following a stroke he suffered in 2011.

Though he was an ordained Baptist minister, Campbell was socially progressive, and had no use for the hypocrisy and politics of the Southern Baptist Convention. Furthermore, he wasn't afraid to tell SBC leaders exactly what he thought of them. In a 2005 Scene profile of Campbell, Joseph Sweat captured his fascinating life, in particular his rift with the SBC:

Writer and renegade preacher Will D. Campbell is probably the only ordained Baptist minister dead or alive ever to call one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s highest ranking officials a “hypocrite and a jackass.” To his face, no less.

There’s been a heap of bad blood between Campbell and the honchos of that Nashville-based religious convention juggernaut that characterizes itself as “America’s largest non-Catholic denomination with more then 16.3 million members in 43,024 churches nationwide.” That’s because, in books, speeches and interviews, Campbell keeps poking the brethren in the butt with his theological pitchfork. And he’s about to get it out again with a new book in the works and reissues of two of his most anti-institutional novels.

“Soul molesters, that’s what I call these television evangelists,” Campbell says during an interview at his log cabin writing retreat just across the Davidson County line in Wilson County. “Soul molesters. That bunch that call themselves Christian. They are not Christian, but a very powerful political group…. Groups like those with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, those people that run the [Southern Baptist Convention] Lifeway show. They don’t show me much about the Christian faith. They hate, hate everybody except themselves and their power. Falwell stood down there at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Nashville recently and said, ‘We won this election.’ And he spoke the truth. They did elect George W. Bush.”

As Campbell sees it, the well-heeled, Bible-thumping folks at the SBC have abandoned Christ in favor of Caesar, turned their dark suits and ties toward the Golden Calf of politics and away from the strict separation of church and state tradition of the Baptist church. He characterizes as un-Christian the SBC’s support for the death penalty, the war in Iraq, the bashing of gays and lesbians, and sexist prohibitions against women in the ministry.

Read the whole story here.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Funeral Tomorrow for Pioneering Music Row Executive Donna Hilley

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 5:20 AM

Frances Preston and Donna Hilley
  • Frances Preston and Donna Hilley
In less than a week, Nashville has lost another of the pioneering women music executives who planted the first cracks in Music Row's glass ceiling. Donna Hilley, whose tenure at Sony/ATV Nashville lasted 31 years — 11 of them as president and CEO — died Wednesday after a long period of poor health. From The City Paper:

Hilley was born in Birmingham, Ala., and began her career in the music industry at radio station WKDA, where Jack Stapp, founder of Tree International, was program director. After working at the radio station for eight years, Hilley became the assistant to the president of a Nashville advertising and public relations firm.

In 1978, Hilley was named executive vice president and COO of Tree International. Sony purchased Tree International in 1989, and Hilley, who negotiated the purchase, became president and CEO in 1994. She was instrumental in negotiating more than 60 acquisitions including Acuff-Rose, Little Big Town, Maypop, as well as the catalogs of Conway Twitty, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Hilley fourth in its “Ten Most Powerful People in Country Music” in 1992, and Mirabella magazine named her as one of the “Women We Admire” in 1994. She was named “Woman of the Year” by the Business and Professional Women’s Club in 1978, and in 1984 she was honored as “Lady Executive of the Year” by the National Women’s Executives.

Belmont University’s Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business awarded Hilley with the first Robert E. Mulloy Award of Excellence shortly after her retirement from Sony/ATV Nashville in 2005. She was also a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

“Donna Hilley’s influence on Music Row’s artists and songwriters and on the broader Nashville community could never fully be expressed with words,” said Troy Tomlinson, president and CEO of Sony/ATV Nashville.

Visitation will be Friday evening at Woodlawn Funeral Home, with the funeral service scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Forrest Hills Baptist Church.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Frances W. Preston, Music Industry Legend, Dies at 83

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Frances W. Preston, the trailblazing music executive who smashed Music Row's glass ceiling as president and CEO of BMI for almost two decades — and worked to make that gender distinction irrelevant as one of the music industry's most powerful leaders — died today of congestive heart failure at her home in Nashville. She was 83.

You'll read much in the coming weeks about Preston's inestimable influence. But a fine place to start is this first-rate City Paper cover story by Kay West, which not only interviews Preston and provides an overview of her accomplishments — and her struggles against a good ol' boy network West aptly compares to the martinis-and-fanny-pats ambiance of Mad Men — but places her within the context of a larger story about the women who broke down Music Row's boardroom doors. A sample:

Over the span of her 46 years leading BMI, Frances Williams Preston established a reputation as a brilliant businesswoman that extended far beyond her hometown, even overseas. When she was named a vice president of BMI in 1964, she was reportedly the first female corporate executive in the state of Tennessee.

But in those days, there were still places where that meant nothing.

“I had to attend a business luncheon that was taking place at the Cumberland Club downtown [a members-only private club since disbanded],” Preston remembered. “I got off the elevator with a bunch of businessmen, and walked to the reception desk to ask to be directed to the luncheon.

“It was being held in a private dining room, in part because women were not allowed in the main dining room. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was they not only could we not eat in the main dining room, but women were forbidden to even be in it! So to prevent me from walking through their dining room, I had to take the elevator down a floor, then walk up the stairs and be let in the back door. It was so humiliating.”

They’d learn. Preston would become inarguably the most powerful woman in the Nashville music industry, and a force to be reckoned with nationwide for the next four decades.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

In Memory of Seven Tennessee Soldiers

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2012 at 11:41 AM


In a moving ceremony this morning on the steps of the War Memorial Building, Gov. Bill Haslam paid tribute to seven Tennesseans killed in action, including two soldiers who had been missing in action for several decades, but were finally laid to rest this year.

Family members of the fallen came forward, as the story of each soldier was read, to receive the state's memorial presentation from the governor and the first lady, Crissy Haslam.

"I get to do a lot of meaningful things as governor," Gov. Haslam told reporters after the service. "But I think today is the most, because you get to recognize families that have made such a big sacrifice."

Their names and stories, as they appeared in the memorial program, are after the jump.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Flags to Mark Procession Route of Fallen Soldier Spc. Jason Edens, 22

Posted By on Fri, May 4, 2012 at 2:29 PM

A funeral service will be held at noon tomorrow, May 5, at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home for Franklin native Army Spc. Jason Edens, who died last week after injuries sustained during combat in Afghanistan. He was 22 years old.

A 2007 Franklin High school graduate, Edens enlisted in the Army three years ago. Among his survivors are his wife, Ashley, and his parents, Jim and Jan Edens (of Franklin) and Janet and Mike Crane (of Phenix City, Ala.).

A recipient of the Purple Heart and other honors, Spc. Edens will be buried at Harpeth Hills Memorial Gardens. To honor his life and service, the public is invited to gather along the procession route with American flags. His procession will go down Columbia Avenue in Franklin to Main Street; then down Hillsboro Road to Sneed Road; Sneed Road to Highway 100; and down Highway 100 to Harpeth Hills Memorial Gardens.

In honor of Spc. Edens' love of motorcycles, members of the Patriot Guard will escort the procession.

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