Brown was known for his 1959 No. 1 hit “The Three Bells,” which he recorded with his sisters as part of the trio The Browns. He later had solo hits with “Pop-A-Top,” ‘‘Morning” and “Southern Loving.”
Fellow singer Brenda Lee, who in March announced that Brown and his sisters would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, called the group “true pioneering legends.”
“They were my road family early in my career and watched over me like I was their kid sister,” she said.
Lee was one of several speakers who talked about Brown’s Christian faith, saying that when she visited him at the hospital, he showed no fear of death. Lee said Brown even told her he had a vision of Jesus in his hospital room.
Brown died of cancer on Thursday at age 81. Lee’s voice cracked as she suggested, “Other beloved voices from our country music family have already joyfully raised their voices to welcome him home into the presence of God.”
The official induction ceremony for the 2015 Hall of Fame members comes in the fall, but Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern said they held a special induction ceremony for Brown at the hospital two weeks ago.
Fellow performer Bill Anderson put the Hall of Fame medallion around Brown’s neck. Then the group gathered at his bedside sang, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Some of the visitors were in tears, but Brown was beaming, Trahern said.
Former Opry President Bob Whittaker said it was fitting that Brown’s voicemail message was “Hello friends!” because he was friendly to everyone. The two used to go hunting together, Whittaker said, and in the evening they would sit around the fire and Brown would sing.
“Sometimes he would even let me sing harmony,” Whittaker said, which he joked was “taking friendship way too far.”
The memorial was open to the public and a line of people waiting to get in stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Among those standing in the heat outside the auditorium was 21-year-old Christian West, who said she is obsessed with Brown’s new album, In Style Again.
West said she saw Brown play at the Opry shortly before he went into the hospital.
“He got this standing ovation, and it was just chilling,” she said.
Performers at the memorial included The Oak Ridge Boys – who also are 2015 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame – Crystal Gayle, Craig Morgan, Vince Gill and The Gatlin Brothers.
Lady Antebellum closed the service with “Never Alone.” Singer Hillary Scott came onstage a short time after her bandmates. Charles Kelley explained the absence saying, “Hillary got a little teary-eyed.”