Star-studded memorial service remembers George Jones - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Star-studded memorial service remembers George Jones

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV-AP) -

Country music stars and fans alike honored George Jones on Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. It was a fitting site for the late country music legend, who had been a member of the show since 1956.

Former first lady Laura Bush spoke at the funeral along with friends and a variety of country singers who performed including Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker, Wynonna Judd, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Randy Travis.

All paid homage to Jones, who died Friday at 81, with music and heartfelt speeches. 

About 1,000 fans had lined up outside by 6 a.m. for the chance to attend the public memorial.

WSMonline.com, the website for the Nashville radio station that carries the Opry, and Opry.com were both down toward the beginning of the more than two-hour service, probably because of the large number of fans hoping to watch the event online.

Grand Old Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs kicked off the memorial, introducing Tucker with the Imperials, who sang "The Old Rugged Cross."

Mandrell, who sang alongside Jones on her 1981 hit "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," took the stage to say a few words about "the greatest singer of all time in country music."

Nobody will ever be able to fill Jones' shoes, she added.

Mandrell spoke about the time she met Jones as a 13-year-old on tour, saying, "What a joy that memory is to me."

She was followed by Kid Rock, who shared the chorus of an unfinished song he was writing for Jones: "I may be a little slower, but I'm still 12 steps ahead of you."

"Unfortunately, I didn't get to play that for him. So, Plan B," he said before launching into his song "The Best of Me."

As former first lady Laura Bush took the stage, she thanked Jones' widow, Nancy, for giving her the opportunity to speak.

"When I was still in school, my friends and I must've put 1,000 quarters in the jukebox to listen to 'The Race Is On,'" she said.

She also recalled hearing Jones' "White Lightning" blaring from the White House gym as "George W. worked out on the treadmill listening to George J."

"In American music, George was truly a legend beyond compare," she said. "We see that in the wonderful musical talent that's gathered here to honor George and celebrate his life. ... Today, we're left with the gift of his songs on Earth, and we can only imagine how beautiful the heavens now sound."

Paisley, who sang "Me and Jesus," encouraged those who might be less familiar with Jones' work to buy his albums so they could see "what all this ruckus is about."

Jones' close friend and protege Alan Jackson was the last to perform, singing Jones' 1980 classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

Jones had been in the midst of a farewell tour that was to have wrapped up with an all-star salute in November in Nashville. He postponed two performances two weeks ago and entered the hospital with a fever and irregular blood pressure. He'd been ill off and on over the previous year.

Jones' pure, matchless baritone defined the sound of country music for a half century and his death brought universal reaction from the music community and fans. Known for hits like "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," ''White Lightning" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today," widely acknowledged as the greatest country song, Jones had No. 1s in four decades from the 1950s to the 1980s and "Possum" remained a popular figure in Music City until his death.

Once married to Tammy Wynette, he was the living embodiment of the words "country music star" at the height of his career and continues to have broad influence on the genre, especially with artists who prefer traditional country to today's pop- and rock-influenced sounds.

Jones also had his troubles as he battled substance abuse and money troubles, but always seemed to slide by with his sense of humor and knowing grin intact.

He won a Grammy and two consecutive Country Music Association song of the year awards for "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. He was among the artists honored in Washington at the Kennedy Center in 2008.

The Beaumont, Texas, native had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1956, which makes the setting of Thursday's ceremony all the more fitting. The Opry House holds more than 4,000 people and was expected to be filled beyond capacity.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.

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