Laying A Legend To Rest

Frances Williams Preston departed the community she nurtured with the same grace and class she displayed when she was living in it.

The Music Row icon, Country Music Hall of Fame member and legendary BMI executive was fondly remembered at a visitation Sunday (6/17) at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Rotunda and eulogized Monday at funeral services conducted at First Lutheran Church in downtown Nashville. She died of congestive heart failure at age 83 on Wednesday morning, June 13.

The Rev. Becca Stevens, who co-officiated at the funeral with the Rev. Brian Hooper, likened the passing of Frances Preston to the falling of a mighty oak tree. Stevens is married to BMI songwriter Marcus Hummon, and she recalled the many occasions when Preston treated them so warmly at BMI banquets. She told the attendees how blessed they had been to have known such greatness.

“On the eighth day of Creation, God created music,” said Stevens. “Frances carried music to the farthest corners of the world.”

Vince Gill reflected that Preston was powerful, but that she wielded her power with grace and kindness. He sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain” in honor of his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member.

Soprano Terri Richter provided some of the funeral service’s most memorable music. She sang “Ave Maria,” “O Divine Redeemer” and an a cappella “The Lord’s Prayer” and led the congregational singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Deanna Loveland performed harp instrumentals as mourners entered the sanctuary. Organist Mark Beall played “O God Be Merciful to Me” and “A Mighty Fortress” as Preludes to the service.

The church was decorated with massive white floral arrangements. The church bulletin’s cover was a reproduction of an abstract oil painting by the deceased’s late brother Doug Williams, also depicting a flower arrangement.

More than 300 Music Row dignitaries attended, including Preston’s fellow Hall of Fame members Emmylou Harris, Jo Walker Meador, Brenda Lee and Harold Bradley. The mourners also included Gary Morris, Steve Cropper, Oak Ridge Boys Duane Allen and William Lee Golden, Michael Bolton, Amy Grant, Ray Stevens, Deborah Allen, Norro Wilson, Roger Murrah, Layng Martine, Dennis Morgan, Paul Kennerley, David Conrad, Tony Brown, David & Carolyn Corlew, Roy Wunsch & Mary Ann McCready, Jim Halsey, Kyle Young, Joe Galante, Troy Tomlinson, Jim Free, Dick Gary, Bob & Laura Heatherly, Ansel Davis, Bill Denny and many of the deceased’s BMI colleagues.

At Sunday’s visitation, BMI songwriters including Paul Overstreet, Lee Clayton, Marshall Chapman, Hugh Prestwood and Jon Tiven reflected alongside Jim Foglesong, Dane Bryant, Evelyn Shriver, Sen. Doug Henry, John & Delores Seigenthaler, Rose Drake, Susan Nadler, Mark Wright and John Esposito. Frances Williams Preston is only the second person to have laid in repose in the Rotunda. Eddy Arnold was the first, in 2008.

As visitors entered the Hall of Fame’s lobby on Sunday, they were greeted by large floral tributes sent by Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert, the Country Music Association, Vince Gill & Amy Grant, the Nashville Songwriters Association and more. Singer-songwriter Joe South sent a lavender satin pillow surrounded by lavender roses. Its inscription read simply and eloquently, “She saw the light.”

Frances Williams Preston was laid to rest with a graveside ceremony at Spring Hill Cemetery on Monday afternoon.

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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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