He Is My Brother
by Taylor Gover
Eddie Jones, a professor of voice in the Department of Music, influenced countless lives as an educator, performer and conductor. He joined the University of Arkansas faculty in 1990, and the community suffered a great loss after his passing on Oct. 16, 2014. On Dec. 3, Jones’ friends, students and colleagues honored his inspirational life through a memorial concert.
The mood was jubilant at Praise the Lord!: Celebrating the Life of Dr. Eddie Jones as choirs filled with the students he adored performed arrangements of his favorite songs and friends, colleagues and students spoke in remembrance of the devotion, love and humor he displayed throughout his life.
"If you were one of his students, you could rest assured that if you had a dream for your vocal career, or your life in general, that dream would soon become a part of his dream also, and that is what made him so special,” said Morgan Aldridge, one of Jones’ students. “He had a place in his heart for each of his students and would work with each of us to achieve our goals and to improve in our field."
"There’s a lot going on this evening, and this is a big event for many different reasons, and I know that if Dr. Jones were with us tonight, he would be very adamant about us not ‘missing it,’” said Jacob Campbell, another of Jones’ students and member of the Inspirational Chorale who spoke during the event. “ I believe that Dr. Jones would consider this all a waste if a single person in this room didn’t let the music move him or her."
Given the number of people on their feet and dabbing at their eyes by the end of the concert, the audience members were moved.
On campus, Jones’ most visible role was his work with the Inspirational Chorale, known as the Inspirational Singers when he arrived on campus. After he assumed the directorship, the ensemble was offered as course credit. It grew from roughly 20 students to more than 60 who traveled throughout the state and region as unofficial ambassadors of the university.
The group’s mission is to keep the black sacred music tradition alive. It also provides a presence and forum where students of all ethnicities are exposed to the various genres of the tradition and become an integrated part of the music department, the academic community and the community at large. The ensemble has performed at national and international conferences and for heads of state and other dignitaries, perhaps most notably during a 2007 trip to China and a performance in the Beijing Concert Hall.
Other choirs under Jones’ direction have toured the United States and Europe. The Concert Choir was chosen to perform in the University of Arkansas Opera Workshop’s presentation of Suor Angelica.
"Eddie was a truly beloved colleague," said Ronda Mains, chair of the Department of Music. "I learned from him every day through his ease with students, love of music, devotion to family, commitment to faith and admiration of all things good. He greeted everyone with a smile, and he sincerely cared about people. Students loved him because they knew that he cared about them as musicians and as unique individuals. I have never met a more positive or optimistic person."
Jones’ students have won state and regional awards at competitions hosted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Music Teachers National Association. Most of his students have gone on to teach music or to continue their music education in prestigious graduate programs.
"He was an incredibly successful teacher purely because he knew how to adapt to each student's level and teach them at a level they understood," said Abby Carr, a long time student of Jones’. "I knew little-to-nothing in high school about music and how to work my voice and yet, as educated as he was, he came down to my level and was patient enough to work with me and build me into the musician I am today."
"Dr. Jones introduced me to a whole other world teaching various techniques and making me sing songs out of my comfort zone, not to make me feel inferior, but to push me to be the best singer I could possibly be," Aldridge said. "Dr. Jones knew my potential within when I could not see it. For that, I will be ever grateful."
Jones not only helped his students grow as musicians but also provided an outlet for spiritual and personal growth.
I would be feeling down about life and come into my voice lessons, trying to hide my problems, and he would say something that would spark a light in my soul and help me work through whatever I had been struggling with,” Carr said.
"His faith prevailed through his battle with cancer," said W. Dale Warren, professor of music, in his comments at the concert. "He lived in peace and joy knowing that even if the cancer won, God would be there with him to carry him safely and lovingly to Heaven."
A scholar and artist, Jones wrote articles on hymnist Charles Price Jones and the musical arrangements of 20th century artist Roland Hayes. His research resulted in the copyrighted dramatic presentation, The Gospel Feast, which is used to inform the public about the history of Black Gospel Music.
He arranged and composed more than 30 musical selections including Fall Again, Just a Little Talk With Jesus, No Not One, Brand New Day and Precious Lord.
Jones conducted compositions by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bernstein. He prepared choirs for performances of Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in collaborative orchestral concerts.
He guest conducted and adjudicated at choral festivals, conducted master classes and presented worship seminars nationally and internationally. He participated in Ireland’s Kilkenny International Gospel Festival, serving as a guest lecturer in 2012 and as a guest conductor in 2013 featuring the Inspirational Chorale as the workshop demonstration choir. He was asked to return in 2014 as the festival’s workshop conductor.
A significant part of Jones’ legacy is not only his care and devotion for his students but also the love and gratitude that they held for him.
"Besides my parents, Dr. Jones was the greatest influence in my life to date," Carr said. "I am blessed to have spent the past eight years with him as my voice teacher, mentor, spiritual guide and most importantly, my friend."
"I would not be the person I am today without having these past few years with Dr. Jones," Aldridge said. "He taught me to be patient, loving and kind and that no matter what walk of life a person comes, everyone is special and equal. He taught me to stand up for things that I believe in and most of all to never give up. You see, Dr. Jones never gave up on God, he never gave up on life and he never gave up on his students. Dr. Eddie Jones was my inspiration and will be dearly missed by everyone."
"More than a simple man of faith, Eddie also had a generous soul," Warren said. "He put in tireless hours organizing for his student family. I say 'family' with all seriousness because he didn't just take them in as students. He really took them into his heart and kept close contact with them even after they graduated."
This warmth and loyalty also extended to his fellow faculty members.
"When I saw him he would break into a huge smile and say, 'How’s my brother?,'" said Stan Morris, vice chair of the Department of Music. "I am sure he used this greeting with other friends. I just didn’t hear him use it very often and it was really special to me."
"If you needed him, he was there and asking what he could do to help," Warren said. "When Eddie observed a friend who had been wronged, he jumped in with both feet to help, and he didn’t wait for the friend to ask for his help, either."
Jones was born Dec. 13, 1951, to the late Rev. Eddie Jones, Jr. and the late Alma (Garrison) Jones in Pearl, Mississippi. He is survived by Maxine, his wife of almost 39 years; four children: Micheal, Chilesa, Coletta and Wade; 13 grandchildren; one great grandchild; three sisters; and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts in vocal performance from Tougaloo College, a Master of Music in music education from Miami University and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis.
"Dr. Jones was a gentle giant," said Stephen Caldwell, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities. "He spoke softly, but his words were always carefully chosen and poignant. He radiated a warmth that attracted students and inspired them to be their very best."
Jones was an inspiration to many, and his legacy will live on through all those whose lives he touched so deeply.
"I truly believe that our lessons went beyond teaching me how to sing, they were life lessons that I will carry with me forever," Carr said. "Of all the years I spent with Dr. Jones, he made me feel so incredibly special, but only after his passing did I realize that I was not the special one – he was."
"If you had never known Eddie and were to ask me today, 'Who is Eddie Jones?' I would say to you with absolute certainty, Eddie Jones is a man of faith and action," Morris said. “He is my brother!"