Musicians React to Mel Tillis' Death

Camille Rivera
November 20, 2017

Sunday morning, November 19, country music legend Mel Tillis died at Muroe Reginoal Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, according to a statement.

Through the late '50s and '60s, Tillis balanced his career as a then-minor hitmaker in his own right with bigger songwriting successes for other artists, including Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and Bobby Bare's "Detroit City".

Under his own name, he cut six singles that topped the country charts, including "I Ain't Never", "Coca-Cola Cowboy" and "Southern Rains". The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure.

Tillis appeared on several television shows, including "Hee Haw" and "Hollywood Squares". Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades.

Tillis, who famously stuttered when he spoke, but never when he sang, was named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year.

Lonnie Melvin Tillis was born on August 8, 1932, in Tampa, Florida.

In all, the Country Music Hall of Fame member wrote more than 1,000 songs and in 2012 received a National Medal of Arts for bringing "his unique blend of warmth and humour to the great tradition of country music".

Tillis was raised in Pahokee, Florida, and developed his stutter as a child while being treated for malaria.

Musical from an early age, he started performing in the early 1950s with a group called The Westerners, while stationed in Okinawa and serving as a baker in the Air Force.

"I was so bashful and scared", he said in 2002 of his hesitancy about speaking in public, "and she said, 'If they laugh they'll be laughing with you, not against you'".

In February 2012 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts - the highest honor given to artists by the U.S. government - by President Barack Obama. His family plans to announce funeral arrangements in Nashville and Florida soon.

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