by Randy Clayton
The song of the south has somehow fallen silent, and the Country Music capitol of the world now produces slick, MTV style talent with a formula that would once have never made it through the stage door of the Ryman auditorium. The days when a struggling performer in jeans or calico dress and a cowboy hat walked nervously toward a crackling open microphone and won the hearts of jaded Tennesee fans, who had an ear for country music, are gone. Most of the pioneer performers who made their mark in Nashville, and then on the world, now rest in its hallowed ground.
Some of the city's most historic landmarks are found not on the maps luring tourists to Nashville's grand hotels, restaurants and attractions, but behind the gates of the citie's cemeteries. More than sixty thousand internet users log on to memorial and tribute sights daily, and some of the virtual memorials visited can be found all around Music City.
Spring Hill Cemetery on Gallatin Pike is the final resting place for performers including Roy Acuff, George Morgan, Hank Snow, Keith Whitley, Porter Wagoner sidekick Speck Rhodes, and piano legend Floyd Cramer. The cemetery has become a mecca for country music fans wishing to pay last respects to these once great talents.
The late Eddie Rabbitt is buried next to his two year old son Timothy at the hauntingly beautiful Calvary Cemetery beneath a shade tree high on a hill overlooking Nashville. Adjoining Calvary Cemetery is historic Mount Olivet Memorial Park where Del Wood, the first female ragtime pianist to sell a million albums, rests near country music pioneer Pop Stoneman of the Stoneman Family Singers. The man who named the Grand Ole Opry, and its first black performer, DeFord Bailey, is buried at Greenwood Cemetery just behind Mount Olivet, and still has not been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Woodlawn Cemetery, one of the largest memorial parks in Music City, is too large to navigate on foot, but within its walls rest legendary talents Tammy Wynette, Mel Street, Red Foley, Marty Robbins, Webb Pierce, Red Sovine, Gospel music's JD Sumner, and Brock Speer, as well as country music producer Owen Bradley and Jordannaire Neal Matthews.
Briley Parkway, the freeway which circles Nashville, is the gateway to Goodlettsville's Forest Lawn Memorial Park and an area there called Music Row. Hee Haw's Stringbean Akeman and singer Lefty Frizell are buried here. Not far away are Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Ramsey Hughes, who were killed in the plane crash that took the life of Patsy Cline, as well as Jack Anglin, who was killed en route to Patsy's funeral.
Hendersonville, Tennessee, is the final resting place of many members of the Cash and Carter Families, including Maybelle, Helen and Anita Carter as well as Johnny's parents, Ray and Carrie. At nearby Sumner Memorial Gardens you'll find one famous resident in the outdoor mausoleum, Harold Jenkins...better known as Conway Twitty.
I have at one time or another visited each of these gravesites, and then ventured to other small towns in Tennessee like Sparta, where I found the grave of Lester Flatt. In Powell, Tennesee, just outside of Knoxville, Hee Haw's Archie Campbell is buried at Glenwood Baptist Church Cemetery, and in Franklin at Mount Hope Cemetery, country comedienne Minnie Pearl is buried alongside her husband Henry under her real name, Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon. McMinnville's Mount View Cemetery is where legend Dottie West is buried; the words of her hit song "Country Sunshine" etched in stone are her epitaph.
I must also mention that some country artists are buried far from Nashville, but their voices still echo in the wooden walls of the Ryman Audtorium. The one and only Patsy Cline is buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia, at Shenendoah Memorial Park, and Hank Williams rests at Oakwood Annex in Montgomery, Alabama.
Most cemeteries will gladly give directions to famous graves, and point out others that you may have missed. You'll discover that many afternoons could be spent in Nashville discovering the now silent voices of the Grand Ole Opry, visiting the grave of President Andrew Jackson at the historic Hermitage, or simply taking in the beauty of Nashville's Underground.