Monday, September 14, 2009
Remembering Bill Pierson
(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
People close to the Old Mining Town Days celebration in Granby told me there was some concern a couple of years ago about the kickoff musical act for the annual three-day celebration.
It had become a tradition for Bill Pierson, one of the last (and best) of the big band singers to open the program, backed by Jim Hunter's band. But the years had not been kind to Bill. Already an octogenarian, his hearing was starting to go, a sign that Bill Pierson's musical career, which had stretched more than seven decades, was on its last legs.
Even the billing for the performance was different. This time, it was Hunter's group that was advertised with special guest Bill Pierson, mainly because the organizers were concerned that Bill would not be able to make the performance.
They underestimated Bill Pierson's determination to go out on a high note. I was lucky enough to be in Dick Smith Memorial Park that Friday evening. Bill was not on stage when the entertainment began, but soon he was introduced, and it was like he had magically erased the problems that were forcing his retirement from his first love.
First, it was the trumpet. As he performed an extended solo on one number, he hit every note. And when he sang, whether it was one of the old standards from the 30's or 40's or his dead-on Louis Armstrong impersonation, both the listener and Bill Pierson were transported to an earlier bygone era.
Though Bill was not supposed to be onstage for more than a couple of songs, he finished out the show with Jim Hunter's combo. Too soon, the music ended.
Granby had seen Bill Pierson perform for the final time.
Bill, a lifelong supporter of the city and people of Granby, died Saturday at age 83. Services will be held 4 p.m. Wednesday at Parker Mortuary in Joplin. Visitation will be held 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the mortuary.
Over the years, I had the good fortune to hear Bill perform many times. I particularly remember his performance at the birthday party for Attorney General Bill Webster in September 1992, when Webster was running against Mel Carnahan for governor. That was the last time I talked to Bill’s late wife Willi. I also remember his 1988 performance at Lamar's Heritage Days celebration, but my favorite performances always came when Bill opened Granby's annual three-day festivities.
Old Mining Town Days will never be the same, but the music in heaven sure must sound sweeter.