Memphis - Wesley Emerson, 61, of Memphis, retired organist-choirmaster, departed this life Friday, February 7, after a long illness. He was a native of Ripley, Tenn., an ardent Midtowner, and an Episcopalian.
Services will be held Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 11:00 AM, at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where he was a communicant; a reception will follow the service. Plans will be announced later for a service and reception at Immanuel Episcopal Church, in Ripley.
Memorial gifts may be made to the House of Mews cat adoption agency; Immanuel Episcopal Church, in Ripley; Luna Nova Music, a group devoted to the cause of chamber music; or to a charity or institution of the donor's choice.
Wesley was preceded in death by his parents, Ben and Edna Emerson; his brother, Rodney Emerson; and his sister, Janice Emerson. He is survived by dear friends and caregivers, especially Sherry Sachritz, Sally Shurling, and Becky Trimble. He also leaves behind beloved felines Desi and Lucy, and his many friends, who will remember him certainly for his musical talent and acumen, but also for his quirky sense of fun.
Wesley was a graduate of Ripley High School, the University of Tennessee at Martin, and the University of Memphis. He was a member of the American Guild of Organists, and for many years held office and was active in the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy. He was a board member of Luna Nova Music, and a founder of the Belvedere Music Festival. He also volunteered with the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County.
At age fifteen, Wesley served as pianist for First Baptist Church of Ripley. According to one source, however, he was given special privileges to play the organ at the First United Methodist Church, after it was discovered that he had been breaking into the church to practice on what was the finest instrument in town. Later, in his twenties, he began his career as a church musician at Holy Cross Episcopal Church and Day School in West Memphis, Ark.
As organist-choirmaster at Grace-St. Luke's Church for almost 35 years, and as a music teacher at Grace-St. Luke's School, Wesley endeared himself to generations of churchgoers, fellow musicians, and schoolchildren. In his musicianship, he married the liturgical correctness of an established religious tradition with the sentimental appeal of old-fashioned Protestant tunes, and he deepened parishioners' meditation and devotion through artful improvisation at the keyboard.
But perhaps best of all, every Sunday, Wesley Emerson played the great hymns of the Church with a gusto that moved even the bashful to sing with vigor.
Published in The Commercial Appeal from Feb. 10 to Feb. 11, 2020.