Nashville, musical guests say goodbye to Mel Tillis with public - WSMV News 4

Nashville, musical guests say goodbye to Mel Tillis with public memorial service

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Mel Tillis arrived at the 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville. (AP File Photo/Mark Zaleski) Mel Tillis arrived at the 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville. (AP File Photo/Mark Zaleski)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

With more than 35 top-ten hits to his name, Mel Tillis had a career any musician would want. 

On Wednesday, country-music disc jockey and TV host Ralph Emery claimed the secret to Tillis' success came from his authenticity. 

Two months after his passing, Nashville said goodbye to Tillis in a public memorial service. 

The sounds of a live rendition of "I Ain't Never" thundered through Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday morning. The song, originally performed by Webb Pierce and co-written with Tillis, first charted on Billboard's Hot Country Songs in 1959. Tapping their feet, the crowd of the Ryman still loved it. 

Tillis' 1972 version of the song topped the Country Singles chart. It was the first number one for Tillis.

Growing up in Florida with a stutter brought on by childhood malaria, Tillis' musical drive formed during late nights listening to the Grand Ole Opry. 

He visited Nashville in 1956, moved there the next year and began writing songs. It was because of the more than 1,000 songs he wrote that he became known as a force in Nashville and beyond.

Other songs performed at the Ryman on Wednesday were Tillis' work from a nearly 60-year career.

There's something cross-generational about the music, something Tillis' children know well. 

Three of them, Sonny Tillis, Carrie April Tillis and Pam Tillis, spoke backstage.

"I think it was the honesty," said Sonny.

"When a song is good, it's timeless," Pam added.

The tributes kept coming, from Tillis' road family and his band to the longtime backup singers he dubbed, 'The Stutterettes.' 

Friends like Ralph Emery, Ricky Skaggs, the Gatlin Brothers, Brenda Lee, Lorrie Morgan, Ira Dean, Ray Stevens, Jamey Johnson, Collin Raye, Daryle Singletary and Allison Krauss also took the stage.

Two months ago, Tillis passed away in Florida. He was 85.

"When he got on stage, it was like he was connecting with one person at a time," said Carrie April.

His children said their father needed a goodbye just for Nashville.

"You could feel the emotion in the room," Pam said. "We felt dad's presence. We think he was proud."

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