A near fatal stroke couldn’t take away the signature baritone of country star Randy Travis, and dozens of his friends, from Garth Brooks to Kenny Rogers, used their voices and his songs to honor the legend.
Travis watched from the side of the stage Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee, as country stars from multiple eras sang his classics, from “Forever and Ever, Amen” to “Three Wooden Crosses.” Performers included Wynonna, Alabama, Chris Young, Travis Tritt and Jeff Foxworthy.
By the end, he had joined in the celebration by singing “Amazing Grace” and leading others in singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Travis, whose multiplatinum debut album Storms of Life in 1986 made him a star, suffered a stroke in 2013 that initially took away his ability to speak or read. But he’s been steadily recovering his voice through rehabilitation, said his wife Mary Travis.
“We sing a lot in the car,” said Mary Travis, backstage beside her husband. “We sing a lot at home. Music is his soul. Music is just what he is made of.”
She said that it’s clear that her husband still remembers how to sing and play the guitar, but the stroke caused a condition called aphasia that makes it difficult for him to communicate.
“He knows all the words and he can chord every single song with his left hand,” Mary Travis said.
Travis, who wore a yellow jacket embroidered with flowers, was all smiles as he watched the performers, who each ended their performances with a hug or a handshake for the singer.
The concert was held to raise proceeds for a new foundation set up in his name to help stroke victims. Travis suffered from a viral infection of the heart and was in a coma when the stroke occurred. He spent over five months in the hospital and underwent two brain surgeries, but battled back through years of rehabilitation.
Tanya Tucker said every time she visited Travis, she saw how far he had come in his progress.
“Someone told me that I am the only one that really made him laugh, so I would go in there and tell him every dirty joke I could think of,” said Tucker, who performed “I Told You So.”
Many artists talked about how Travis opened the door for a neo-traditionalist wave in country music in the late ’80s with his unmistakable voice.
“The bottom end of his voice is so wonderful,” said Rogers, who sang his classic “The Gambler,” for Travis. “Most people sing well in the middle of their range, but he got down in the bottom of his range and would just hold it. I never heard anything like that.”
“There isn’t anybody in country music today that doesn’t owe their career to Randy Travis,” said Brooks from the stage. “I am one of those guys, man.”
At the end of a rousing version of “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Brooks ran over to Travis to hold the microphone so Travis could sing a soft, but still deep “Amen.”