It was only fitting his funeral would echo his life.
Hundreds of friends, family as well as popular music stars such as Vince Gill and Amy Grant, attended Owsley’s funeral Tuesday at Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston.
Before the ceremony began, people waiting to see the family created a line that wound its way throughout the church. Those same attendees filled the church beyond its seating capacity – with many forced to stand along the church’s back wall or sit in foldout chairs lining the pews as well as on the two stairways that led to the balcony.
“It’s good to see Will’s hometown,” said Grant, speaking to the crowd. “All of us who toured with him heard lots of good stories about his hometown. You have to have some good stories to write good songs and Will could write some amazing songs.”
Owsley, 44, of Franklin, Tenn. and formerly of Anniston, died Friday at Williamson County Hospital in Tennessee. Speakers at the funeral acknowledged that Owsley took his own life.
An Anniston native, Owsley graduated from Anniston High School and began his musical career playing guitar in local clubs before moving to Nashville 24 years ago.
Owsley played with many Christian musicians like Judson Spence and Michael W. Smith and was Grant’s tour guitarist for 16 years. He toured the world three times, once with his own band, named Owsley. His first album, also entitled Owsley, was nominated for a Grammy Award. During his career, Owsley had 10 gold and platinum records.
During the funeral, Grant stood and played one of her popular songs, “Threaten Me with Heaven,” as a tribute to her friend and fellow artist.
“The family asked me to play this song,” Grant said. “I don’t play it as good as he did, but I’m sure he’s cheering me on.”
Grant said the song would not have even existed were it not for Owsley’s influence.
“It never would have been written without Will’s tenacity … to get us all in one room,” she said.
Gill, who the family also asked to perform, played his popular song, “Go Rest High Upon That Mountain.”
“I’ve sung this song thousands of times, but it’s never been more appropriate than for this day,” Gill said.
As Gill strummed his guitar in preparation to sing, he choked back tears and spoke briefly on his long friendship with Owsley.
“I know after this day that I’m a much better man because of that fellow,” Gill said.
Spence said he thought long and hard to pick which song he would play at Owsley’s funeral before finally settling on his own rendition of the well-known Christian song, “Jesus Loves Me.”
“When I was thinking about what to sing today, I remembered a conversation we had six months ago and out of the blue, (Owsley) said, ‘I love how you sing Jesus Loves Me,’” Spence said.
Pastor Jim Thomas, who preached at Owsley’s church in Tennessee, made the trip to Anniston just to speak about his friend.
“Will was such a treat to have worshipping with us,” Thomas said. “He could light up a room and I loved that. You sent us one of your best and brightest.”
Owsley was buried at Highland Cemetery. He is survived by two sons, his wife, parents, brother and sister.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.