He was known best for the classic country ballad "Gentle on My Mind," but John Hartford loved bluegrass and old-time music, so it was fitting that his friends honored him at his funeral with traditional songs performed on acoustic instruments.
a 90-minute service Friday afternoon (June 8) at Hartford's home overlooking the Cumberland River in Madison, Tenn., a large
crowd of hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to Hartford. Music by Earl Scruggs,
Emmylou Harris, the Osborne Brothers, Sam Bush, Vassar Clements, David Grisman, the Nashville
Bluegrass Band, Gillian Welch, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien and others celebrated the
memory of the musician and songwriter. Hartford died Monday (June 4) at age 63 after a 21-year battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
service took place under a white tent next to the Hartford house. A black bowler, a Hartford trademark, sat on top of the
closed casket surrounded by dozens of flower arrangements.
Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs presided
over the ceremony, offering dozens of family members, friends and fans an opportunity to reflect on the man being laid to
rest. Among those who offered informal eulogies were musicians Tompall Glaser, Tut Taylor and Peter Rowan and country radio/TV
personality Ralph Emery. Hartford was remembered as a teacher, a storyteller and a
gifted musician and songwriter with an eccentric, gentle spirit. His passion for steamboats and rivers and traditional music
and dancing were emphasized throughout.
Scruggs, who first inspired Hartford to pick up the banjo, performed
the instrumentals "Home Sweet Home" and "Flint Hill Special." Stubbs explained that Scruggs was one of
the several hundred musicians who visited Hartford at his home in his final days. At Hartford's request, Scruggs played "Home
Sweet Home" during his visit.
O'Brien did the honors of singing Hartford's signature song and told the
congregation that "Gentle on My Mind" is as timeless as Hartford's beloved old-time music.
service concluded with "I'll Fly Away," performed first by a choir, then by an instrumental ensemble led by Scruggs
and finally by all those gathered to pay their respects.
Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, Steve Earle, Hal Ketchum, John Cowan and Riders
in the Sky's Fred "Too Slim" LaBour were among the many musicians who attended.