Musician’s talent started with mother’s prayer

Dan Whittle, The Murfreesboro Post, January 13, 2013

In this undated photo, Billy Yearwood and John Blankenship enjoy session at the Readyville Mill in Readyville, Tenn. (Photo submitted)

While musician Billy Yearwood was in his mother’s womb 85 years ago, she prayed, asking God for a musician son.

“While pregnant, Mother prayed for a boy,” Yearwood shared.

Irene Rice Yearwood’s prayer then got “specific” regarding what kind of music.

“She prayed for a boy, and that he play the mandolin,” the now 84-year-old son accounted. “And I’ve never been really interested in any instrument other than the mandolin. It all goes back to Mother’s prayer before I was born.”

How good is the instrumentalist? So good, he turned down appearing and touring with two of Nashville country music industry’s biggest stars when they were at their height of popularity back in the 1950s.

Eight decades later, Yearwood is still making music, in answer to his mothers’ prayer.

“Music comes from the soul, a gift from God from your innermost being,” noted the lifelong resident of Middle Tennessee. “At age 3, I remember standing on a box, and cranking the handle on Mama’s old wind-up record player, with the big speaker shaped like a flower.

“And Mom would sing to me sad songs, like ‘Rosewood Casket’ and ‘Put Those Shoes Away,’” Yearwood stretched back across the centuries.

At age 7, his parents found a music teacher in Nashville.

“They put me on the bus here in Murfreesboro, and I would ride for music lessons each week in Nashville,” Yearwood accounted. “There were no music teachers here, so Mother found a teacher in Nashville for me. It was exciting for a 7-year-old to ride the Greyhound bus all by himself, to and from Nashville.”

Those music lessons paid dividends later on, resulting in his first on-the-road professional “gig.”

During the past eight decades, Yearwood has “made music” throughout Middle Tennessee, including “jam sessions too numerous to count” with the likes of professional musician Mickey Harris and with the late great Cannon County music-making icon, Billy Womack. Rutherford County native Harris tours the world.

The seasoned ticket-holder of life has performed at Miller’s Grocery in Christiana and the Bell Buckle Café. He’s appeared at Uncle Dave Macon Days and innumerable nursing homes and York VA Medical Center.

“At Bell Buckle, one day in walked Waylon Jennings and (wife) Jessi Colter, while we were in session for a radio show,” Yearwood shared. “I remember hoping to maybe get to play with Jessi Colter. I was so honored to play the mandolin when she sang ‘Storms Don’t Last.’ She tore that song up …

“I’ll never forget what Waylon came up to me and said: ‘Don’t let anyone ever change your music,’” Yearwood added.

But, his “most appreciated” compliment didn’t come from someone famous.

“One of the nicest notes of appreciation came a while back, when I was asked to perform privately for this 98-year-old lady in a care facility here locally,” Yearwood added. “Her note, thanking me for my music, was one of the most fulfilling gestures. It touched my heart that my music helped her. I still have the letter.

“My music is not about money, and it’s not about me, really,” the musician shared with obvious humility. “It’s about a God that gives you the gift and love of making music.”

Even though Yearwood has never had a No. 1 hit, his music has touched great music-makers.

Yearwood also played locally with musician Bob Jennings on WGNS and Nashville’s WLAC Radio in the late 1940s.

When not making music and taking care of family matters, Yearwood worked for the old Jewel Tea Co., as area manager in Middle Tennessee  from 1955 to 1973.

Well-known Murfreesboro lawyer and musician John Blankenship is quick to “sing” Yearwood’s praises.

“Billy Yearwood’s music is the essence of natural, and will never be replaced once it’s lost,” credited the musician whose musical stage name is “Johnny B and the Balladeers.”

Yearwood is a key balladeer, who helps headline the music-making at the regionally famous Readyville Mill each Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to noon, with musicians Gary Redmon, Ken and Sarah Frizzell, and Avent Lane.

“Billy’s music has a beautiful flagrance, like a bouquet of flowers,” Blankenship credited. “It’s understandable his picture hangs in the Blue Grass Music Hall of Fame in Owensboro, Ky. …”

“Billy, if he had a pursued a recording career, he could have been as big a star as they come, for his gifts on the mandolin are genuine genius,” the music-making lawyer testified.

And years later, per his mother’s prayer, Yearwood and his mandolin play on.

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