09 Jun 2011
- Written by Dorothy Bracy Alston
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Special to the Tri-State Defender
From those who went to school or worked with him, to those who eulogized or played music with him, the sentiment when describing Rudolph “Rudy” Williams – the “mayor of Beale Street – was the same:
Philip Joyner Jr. (left), adorned with the hat that often crowned the late Rudy Williams, and Herman Green set the homegoing tone during a rousing Beale Street processional. (Photo by Shirley Jackson)
Images of Rudy Williams were plentiful along Beale Street on Wednesday. (Photo by Shirley Jackson)
Rudy Williams’ widow, Marva Williams, and their daughter, Meghan, heard numerous people share their memories of Mr. Williams during the celebration service at Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church on Wednesday. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)
Members of the Letter Carrier Band of Memphis, of which Rudy Williams also was a member, were among those who paid tribute to him at N.J. Ford Funeral Home on Tuesday. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)
He was unique.
He was one of a kind.
He was a lovable and great guy.
He loved music.
He loved his horn.
Music was his ministry and it was always about the people.
He was a true professional.
Mr. Williams, known near and far as a trumpeter and Memphis ambassador, was laid to rest Wednesday (June 8) after celebration services at Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church at 1098 S. Wellington Street, where the Rev. J. L. Payne is pastor. Mr. Williams’s body was found in woods not far from his home on May 31. He had been reported missing several days earlier.
Carson Lamm, vice president of the Beale Street Merchants Association, barely held back the tears as he reflected on his love and admiration for Mr. Williams.
“Rudy’s absence is already felt. There is a silence on Beale Street that will never be forgotten,” said Lamm. “It’s like showing up to a dinner and someone in your family is not there. He will never, ever, ever be forgotten.”
Philip Joyner Jr. shares that declaration. Wednesday’s rousing Beale Street processional, organized and facilitated by Joyner, Williams’ long time friend, mentee, piano player and middle school band director will go down in history. Joyner, in Rudy-style garb wearing a black tuxedo with a black top hat, led a parade of musicians, friends, fans and well wishers down Beale Street to Handy Park as the musicians played, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Hundreds of people lined both sides of the street waving, smiling and crying as the hearse carrying Mr. Williams’ body passed by. The diverse band of blacks and whites, men and women, young and old played “Gonna Lay Down My Burden Down by the Riverside” as the motorcade of family and friends under the direction of N.J. Ford Funeral Home drove along.
Tuesday’s memorial service at N.J. Ford Funeral Home, also organized by Joyner, brought out over 100 musicians.
Some of the performers included: piano and organ player Kurl Williams; drummers Terry Saffold and Renardo Ward; bass player Carlton Johnson; saxophonist Herman Green; trumpet player Nokie Taylor; trombone player, Brenda Rutledge; alto saxophonist and percussion player, Ekpe; along with blues singers Ruby Wilson, Sandra Bray and J.J. Daniels.
Marva Williams, Mr. Williams’ wife of 34 years, said, “Everybody has done more than I could have ever dreamed and imagined. I wish Rudy were here so he could see this,” she said.
“He wouldn’t believe the love, all the kindness, the services, the condolences. Rudy never would have dreamed of this. He would be flabbergasted and floored at the people who have come to pay their respects.”
She said her telephone has been jumping off the hook, ringing every three to four minutes.
“Things have been so hectic,” she said. “I haven’t really had time to think about all this, but I need your prayers.”
Several international tourists visiting from Scotland shared Wednesday’s historic good-bye. They’d met Mr. Williams and said they were honored to take part.
Former City Court Judge D ‘Army Bailey, now with Wilkes & McHugh, P.A., was among those who delivered eulogy remarks.
“Rudy’s horn belonged to the people, young, old, black and white. Rudy helped us appreciate the fun of music,” said Bailey.
“What was different about Rudy was that he was so ordinary. His ordinary was classic and historic. He helped to keep us all grounded and to make each of us feel appreciated.”
Kendra Hill boiled her reflections down to this:
“We all need to ask God to forgive us for not recognizing when we are in the presence of greatness.”
The celebration and tribute services ended with a repast at Kings Palace Café located at 162 Beale Street.
Said Lamm of Mr. Williams: “Beale Street was his last stop. He will be missed.”