In Memoriam James D. Walbert
As I noted a while back, James D. Walbert, grandson of James Vaughan and accomplished gospel pianist, died recently. Yesterday I received a note from a friend who attended Walbert’s memorial service, and I asked him to pass along a report he had written for another online forum and for his permission to re-post here. He graciously agreed.
TO: Those who might not have heard this otherwise.
I wrote this originally for a list of persons who don’t know much about southern gospel, so that should explain some of the info I included.
This message is about a southern gospel legend.
A memorial service for James D. Walbert, grandson of James D. Vaughan and extraordinary pianist, was held yesterday, Sunday, August 2, at 2:00 P.M. in the James D. Vaughan Memorial Church of the Nazarene in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Born in 1918, Walbert died in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 7 of this year and is buried in the Vaughan family plot in Lawrenceburg’s Mimosa Cemetery. If you know little or nothing about him, consult the websites accessible via the links below. (There are plenty of others besides.) “Peace Like A River,” perhaps his best-known song, and for which his father W. B. Walbert wrote the words, was performed during the service, as were others. He’s also known among the southern gospel folk for his piano arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” And there is much, much more.
Attendance was quite low: 30-40 people, I’d guess. The service consisted of performances of songs by Walbert and Vaughan, reminiscences, and a little bit of congregational singing. Some of that was quite interesting, but most interesting was a video showing a rather informal concert Walbert did in 1991, when he was ca. 73 years old. I had already known that the man had a prodigious piano technique (most southern gospel pianists who know his artistry hold him in the very highest regard), and this video reinforced that knowledge. But what also came roaring through was a keen intelligence. Each of the family members (daughter, son, wife) responded strongly in turn when I referred to his intellect. It apparently was an important part of his personality, and one they valued highly.
One bit of information I learned that I had not heard before: Walbert contracted polio in his early 30s, shortly before Salk developed his polio vaccine. This apparently had a devastating impact on him. But he seemed to overcome it. He showed a physical toughness then that he was to show again during his seven years in a Birmingham nursing home prior to his death.
A collection of some of his recordings, _James D. Walbert: The Piano_ (2003 Vaughan) can be obtained from the James D. Vaughan Museum (http://www.members.tripod.com/vaughanmuseum/index.htm).
Walbert grew up immersed in the midst of a thriving music culture, a culture based primarily in the South, that most Americans know little or nothing about today. That should be of special interest to those of you who receive this.
I guess I’m a little surprised by the low attendance. I realize the singing-convention and singing-school culture with which Walbert was mainly identified has declined substantially in the past forty years or so, but during the same time, important segments of professional southern gospel appropriated the Vaughan name and legend in an effort to present the increasingly commercialized world of southern gospel as a sanctified tradition descended from the Lawrenceburg tribe. Walbert was an actual descendant of that line, and a fine exponent of its music. One wonders at the lack of interest in his passing among many of those who have capitalized on his family’s name.
RIP, James D. Walbert.Email this Post