Those who knew Charlie Daniels best joined in songs and scriptures at a memorial service to remember the Country Music Hall of Fame member — and to make sure people laughed, because that is what Daniels would want, they said.
Police escorted Daniels’ coffin from Mt. Juliet to his Murfreesboro church, World Outreach, on Friday.
World Outreach’s main 5,000-seat auditorium was perhaps half-filled. However, Keith Posch, the church’s director of IT, said the service was livestreamed to three other sanctuaries and an outdoors stage.
A Who’s Who list of country musicians sang: Trace Adkins; Vince Gill; Gretchen Wilson; Travis Tritt; and Carolyn Corlew (with the Charlie Daniels Band).
After a military honor guard brought Daniels’ casket into the auditorium, Corlew sang “Psalm 23.”
Ex-Navy SEAL and motivational speaker David Rutherford spoke of Daniels’ love for the military as well as freedom and faith. He recalled a famous Daniels quote: “Only Two Things Protect America — God and the U.S. military.”
Rutherford also mentioned Daniels’ remarks about his childhood in the coastal city of Wilmington, N.C., where he lived during World War II. Daniels and his family could see the damage to ships attacked by German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean, he said.
Rutherford said the friendship he formed with Daniels several years ago enhanced his life.
“That man — he was America,” Rutherford said. “He was like our father.”
Storme Warren, a country radio broadcaster and friend of Daniels, said he was a man too big to fit into a coffin.
He said, “Charlie loved everybody. He was my hero, he was my mentor, he was my friend. People were not an inconvenience to Charlie.”
Warren recounted how Daniels convinced him to move to Nashville to further his career and how Hazel Daniels found him his first rental home.
Daniels gave him some advice for launching a television show: “Son, do it better.”
“He did it better,” Warren said.
Roger Campbell, one of Daniels’ best friends and his guitar tech, mentioned having a hearing impairment.
“No one but Charlie would hire a deaf guitar tuner,” Campbell said.
He mentioned how Daniels would treat everyone the same, no matter who they were. His and Hazel’s 56-year marriage set the “gold standard” for marriages.
Adkins recounted how he was asked to sing Daniels’ Grammy-winning “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – and Daniels was in the front row.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been,” Adkins said.
Adkins sang his hit song “Arlington,” which is from the viewpoint of a soldier killed in battle and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He said Daniels loved the song.
At the end of the song on Friday, Adkins said, “Love you, Charlie – tell Jesus I said ‘Hey.’ ”
Vince Gill said he met Daniels 44 years ago when he was a 19-year-old in a band with Ricky Skaggs. A few years later he was in a band called Pure Prairie League and played a number of openings for the Charlie Daniels Band. On one trip, the bass player was unable to play, and Daniels convinced Gill to perform solo, which he said may have been the first time he did so.
Gill, a Country Music Hall of Fame member like Daniels, sang his hit, “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”
Tritt, who sang “Amazing Grace” at the service, said, “Charlie loved Jesus” and was never judgmental. “He was never ashamed to tell you how much he loved the Lord.”
Words of remembrance
World Outreach pastor Rev. Allen Jackson, mentioned the solemnity of a memorial service, but added, “I also know Charlie, and if we don’t laugh and smile a little bit — the next time we see him, it won’t be pretty.”
He said a passage from the Book of Zechariah came to mind: “A mighty tree has fallen.”
When some men are lost, those left behind must raise their game, Jackson said.
Daniels’ advice during a hard time would be: “Put one foot in front of the other,” Jackson said.
“Charlie loved God. Charlie loved Hazel and Charlie Junior,” he said.
Jackson shared how Daniels would contact the church at Christmas and say he wanted to help families going through a hard time. That brought him more joy than those he helped, Jackson said.
“He never considered people a distraction,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said Daniels could be braver than pastors in speaking the truth.
Jackson referenced lyrics from various songs of Daniels, including, “What this world needs is a few more rednecks,” and how Daniels was a simple man. The pastor recalled how as a teen, he would drive his parents’ station wagon listening to a Daniels tape with music about long-haired country boys and how that could have been his anthem.
Addressing Daniels’ widow, Jackson quoted one of her husband’s songs and said, “We don’t want to catch you sittin’ on a bar stool actin’ like a durn fool.”
He told Hazel Daniels he wanted her to continue to be able to laugh.
Turning serious, Jackson said, “I pray we see our nation heal and come together again.”
Then he said, “That’s why I’m confident the devil went down to Georgia, because he didn’t win in Tennessee.”
Concluding, Jackson said of Daniels, “He’s the best that’s ever been.”
Daniels’ manager, David Corlew, ended the service by quoting a veteran who once said God put Daniels here for a reason — for others to emulate.
He quoted Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”