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Charlie Daniels was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

USA TODAY

Politicians praised his patriotism and musicians lauded his friendship. 

To both, he was simply “Charlie.” 

Hundreds — some wearing red, white and blue masks, others in throwback band tees — gathered outside Sellars Funeral Home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee Wednesday evening to celebrate Charlie Daniels, a Country Music Hall of Fame musician and longtime Wilson County community figure. A 10-hour visitation followed on Thursday.

Daniels died Monday morning after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.

“Of all the musical things he will be remembered for, which there’s many, many … I think the man that Charlie Daniels was supersedes all of that,” country singer Tracy Lawrence said during Wednesday’s gathering. “He was a gracious, humble, deeply convicted man about the things that he believed in.”  

The patriotic-themed public memorial — organized in-part by the funeral home — began with a 21 gun salute and helicopter flyover. Daniels, an impassioned advocate for veterans and one of country music’s foremost conservative voices, was an an honorary brigadier general in the Tennessee State Guard and afforded military honors.

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“It’s pure Charlie Daniels,” one onlooker said as helicopters buzzed above a busy Mt. Juliet Road. “He ordered that for us.” 

An audio message from U.S. President Donald Trump, delivered via U.S. Rep John Rose, R-Cookeville, praised Daniels’ contribution to veteran suicide awareness.

The “Devil Went Down To Georgia” songwriter, who raised more than $1 million for veterans via his nonprofit Journey Home Project, regularly tweeted “22 VETERANS COMMIT SUICIDE EVERY DAY!!” 

“He loved our country, he loved our family and he loved his music,” Trump said. “He was special. He was as good as it gets.” 

Musicians — the Mt. Juliet High School choir and Evan Reavis, a Belmont University student — led “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” and “God Bless The U.S.A.” sing-alongs, respectively.

Lawrence, who said he first met Daniels in spring 1991, dedicated his song “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” to the late band leader. From donating autographed fiddles to performing for the homeless in downtown Nashville, Lawrence said he could “go on and on” about the kindness he saw in Daniels. 

“In all the time that I’ve known him, if he could bend over backward and help me, he would,” Lawrence said.

In a speech about “Charlie’s America,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee praised Daniels as “one of the greatest Americans any one of us have ever known.”

The one-time Republican presidential candidate outlined “Charlie’s America” as a place where “you respected your mother” and “before supper, men removed their hat before the blessing … and there always was a blessing.” 

“Charlie Daniels’ America is a place we’re all better off for having him touch it, love it and lead it,” Huckabee said. “We’re gonna miss him dearly, but he will never play again to an empty seat. He’s going to fill Heaven’s stadiums with his unique sound and soul.”

With a mention to Daniels’ famed “Devil” showdown, Huckabee added, “And the devil won’t ever touch or tempt him again because he is the best that’s ever been.” 

Country artist Darryl Worley paid tribute with a trio of songs, including “I Miss My Friend,” with a chorus that sings, “I miss my friend/ The one my heart and soul confided in/ The one I felt the safest with.”

Earlier in the memorial, hit country singer Trace Adkins raised his hat to Daniels, calling him a friend who offered advice “seeped in wisdom, but tempered with humility.”

Adkins nodded to Daniels’ military passion by lending his familiar baritone to “Arlington,” a song about soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Daniels regularly performed overseas for soldiers.

“I can honestly say there’s a hole in the fabric of this country today,” Adkins said. “Charlie Daniels left that hole.”

On Thursday, the Wilson County funeral home hosted a planned 10-hour visitation for Daniels. U.S. flags lined sidewalks outside the building as a steady flow of visitors headed into the parlor during early hours of the memorial. 

Cars with plates from Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee — which Daniels called home for more than five decades — parked in the funeral home lot, where one stereo aptly spun the familiar fiddle line in “Devil Went Down to Georgia” upon arrival. 

A funeral service at 11 a.m. Friday at World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro will follow. 

Contributing: Brinley Hineman, TheTennessean

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