After County Music Hall of Fame member and Southern rock legend Charlie Daniels died Monday morning, the news spread across Mt. Juliet and Wilson County as fast as his famous fiddling.
Across the world for that matter.
Daniels’ death two days after America’s Independence Day seemed to strike a chord with many fans of the fierce patriot.
Daniels, 83, died Monday morning at TriStar Summit Medical Center in Hermitage. Doctors determined the cause of death was a hemorrhagic stroke. He lived in rural Wilson County at his Twin Pines Farm.
He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
Daniels and his wife, Hazel, raised their son Charlie Daniels Jr. at a home off Saundersville Ferry Road. He later moved to Twin Pines in rural Wilson County.
However, he often told people his heart was in Mt. Juliet.
Just hours after the announcement of his death, hundreds of fans lined up along Mt. Juliet Road, waving U.S. flags, holding flowers and wearing vintage Charlie Daniels Band concert T-shirts to say goodbye as uniformed personnel from the Mt. Juliet Police Department and Wilson County Sheriff’s Office escorted his body to Sellars Funeral Home in Mt. Juliet.
His song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a Southern anthem and won a Grammy in 1979. For years, Daniels performed a concert for his fan club at the Mt. Juliet Community Center, located at Charlie Daniels Park. His gospel albums also won Dove Awards.
A Daniels concert was not complete without him losing nearly all of his fiddle strings in a fury of passionate, expert playing. He was named BMI Icon in 2005 and joined the Grand Ole Opry cast in 2008 at age 71.
“Charlie Daniels was a reverential innovator. He was a fiddle-playing bandleader, like King of Country Music Roy Acuff. His music fused the immediacy of Southern rock with the classic country storytelling that he heard as a child in Wilmington, North Carolina. He brought new audiences to country music, pointing people to the sources even as he explored the edges. He was also a delight to be around, always with wife, Hazel, at his side. Just as fiddler Johnny did in the famous song, Charlie Daniels beat the Devil,” Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young said in a statement.
By mid-afternoon Monday, the entrance to Charlie Daniels Park had bouquets of all colors, propped up as a final salute.
Officials at Charlie Daniels Park set up a memorial for Daniels in front of a former train caboose that was recently painted with a mural showing Daniels playing a fiddle.
“We are deeply saddened by Charlie’s passing,” Mt. Juliet Parks and Rec Department Events Coordinator Jennifer Diekmann said. “Those who wish to, can set flowers or tributes by the caboose.”
A yellow stickie note was stuck on a stone at the park’s entrance that said, “Thank you for bringing joy to our lives.”
Caring for Wilson County
Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Ray Justice helped to create Charlie Daniels Park in 1999 and oversaw the building of the community center there as well.
“A group of guys thought so much of Charlie and his contributions to the city they decided to name the park after him,” Justice said.
He said the park was originally just a softball field and later had a football field. It’s grown into a major attraction that bears Daniels’ name with a splash pad, walking track, playground, picnic pavilions, tennis courts, volleyball court and a skate park.
Justice said Daniels was a music mentor to him when he was about 12 years old.
“That was over 45 years ago and I will never forget his support,” said Justice. “He would come to Shiloh Music that was then in Shiloh Plaza and just sit and give us youngsters advice about our music and guitar playing.”
And while that mentorship was only for a brief period, Justice said he holds the time spent with Daniels close.
“We were just kids and he was so engaging and would take each of us separately and told us how good we played and encouraged us. And, though he was so good at playing and singing, he always played at our level when with us. He will be greatly missed,” Justice said.
Mt. Juliet resident Bill Wolfenbarger, “Captain Sunshine” on WLAC radio station in the 1980s, said he has known Daniels for a long time.
“I have known Charlie and his family for over 40 years and was so saddened to hear this,” he said. “But knowing him and his faith, I know where he is at now.”
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto spoke about the musician’s connection to the county.
“We are saddened by the loss of a great man who brought joy to millions through his music, volunteerism, patriotism, and love for others,” he said. “Charlie Daniels made you want to be a better person on many fronts. Wilson County loved Charlie and The Charlie Daniels Band. He will be truly missed but never forgotten.”
Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce President and Executive Director Mark Hinesley said he was proud to know Daniels. He said Charlie and Hazel Daniels were Chamber members before he started there 20 years ago.
Before Hinesley became head of the Chamber, he worked in lawn care.
“Back in the day I would go to Twin Pines and fertilize his putting green,” Hinesley said. “You can’t hardly walk down the street without hearing people tell their ‘story’ about Charlie. Whether it was going into Our Place to eat or just a local store. We were his stomping grounds.”
Hinesley agreed Daniels, a longtime fan of the University of Tennessee football team, was Mt. Juliet’s most fervent ambassador.
“He always talked about his roots in Mt. Juliet and Tennessee, no matter where he was,” said Hinesley.
There was rarely a school, personal, or church fundraiser in Mt. Juliet without a signed Charlie Daniels fiddle among the auction items.
“They were beautiful,” Hinesley said. “All boxed up and shiny for a proud owner who might bid over $1,000 just to own one.”
The Wilson County Schools board held a moment of silence for Daniels before its monthly meeting on Monday night. Board Chairman Larry Tomlinson said that Daniels was a great supporter of schools in the county.
Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin also knew Daniels.
“This is a devastating loss to the Daniels family, Mt. Juliet and the music industry,” he said. “He was a patriot and icon who did so much for our country, our veterans, our soldiers and the great state of Tennessee. Charlie was our friend and neighbor and we will greatly miss him. God Bless him and the Daniels family.”
Remembering the music
Many from the music world quickly reacted as word spread of Daniels’ passing and released statements through their publicist.
“Charlie Daniels was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known,” Randy Travis, another Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member, said in statement. “He and Hazel have been two of my and Mary’s dearest friends over the past years. We laughed, cried and prayed together. Not only was he a gift to us, but to the entire world. It is my greatest honor to be your Country Music Hall of Fame classmate — you will live on forever as my hero … my friend. I love you.”
“He loved his God, he loved his family and he loved his country,” singer Brenda Lee, another Country Music Hall of Fame member said. “And we all loved him!!! He lived it and breathed it every day. What a great American!”
For 45 years, The Charlie Daniels Band hosted the Volunteer Jam, a concert with a packed lineup of musical stars. The first one was held on Oct. 4, 1974, at War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. Musicians who have participated in previous Volunteer Jams include The Allman Brothers Band, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tammy Wynette, Roy Acuff, Carl Perkins, ALABAMA and Don Henley.
“From the 1980s until last year, I’ve had the pleasure of not only touring with but getting to know Charlie Daniels. He was everything on stage a great artist should be,” Country Music Hall of Fame member Teddy Gentry of ALABAMA said. “But it was offstage Charlie I grew to love over the years. Many times, Charlie would answer the call to do charity work and never charge a cent. He set a humble example of what a man, a friend, and Christian should be by the way he treated others.”
“ ‘Are you as good as Charlie Daniels?’ That’s the question anybody asks when I tell them I play fiddle and for a very good reason. I think we all, as fiddlers, owe Charlie Daniels a huge thanks for putting the fiddle in the spotlight and making it famous all over the world,” said Michael Cleveland, an IBM Fiddle Player of the Year and 2018 National Fiddler Hall of Fame inductee.
“If there were a Southern Rock/Country/GOD fearing Patriot/Good old boy on Mt. Rushmore, Charlie Daniels likeness would be hammered, chiseled, and blasted onto it,” Larry Gatlin said. “We would follow him into battle. We would not follow him on stage. We couldn’t ... no one else could either. Heaven has never rocked like its ROCKIN’ right now. Charlie old friend, we’ll see you when we do. Rock on, friend.”
Pride for veterans
The tribute flowers along the entrance to Charlie Daniels Park took on many colors, but the predominant selections were red, white and blue. Daniels was known for his love of the military, veterans and the United States.
In 2014, Daniels and his manager, David Corlew, founded The Journey Home Project to help veterans.
Also, The Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University helps student-veterans, former military members and their families make the transition from military service to college and then a post-graduation career.
According to a news release from the university, Daniels described the honor of his name upon MTSU’s veterans center, which opened in 2015, as greater than his selection to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Middle Tennessee State University today grieves the passing of Charlie Daniels, a dear friend and great patriot, whose devotion to the men and women in our Armed Forces helped create and sustain the Veterans and Military Family Center on our campus that bears his name,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, a longtime friend, said in a statement. “The entire university community joins us in extending our deepest sympathy to Hazel and his family.”
MTSU College of Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel, a former music industry reporter, said during her lifetime, Daniels “has always been a towering figure in Middle Tennessee, yet he remained grounded and approachable as he went about his days living in Mt. Juliet and worshipping in Murfreesboro.
“He was a horse-loving, gum-chewing, cowboy hat-wearing superstar who always remained one of us, no matter where in the world he traveled.”