By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Jesse James Boyce, “one of the baddest bass players,” a versatile musician, producer, beloved husband, father, minister, businessman and civil rights advocate, was laid to rest Sunday.
He was 69.
Born Jan. 26, 1948 in North Carolina, Boyce died Aug. 17 surrounded by close relatives at home on Jessie Drive.
Capping heights of success, Boyce returned in October to Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church as minister of music and worship. Richard Wayne (Little Richard) Penniman was one of several speakers at Gordon Memorial during Sunday’s celebration of life for a man with a servant’s heart.
Early on, Boyce was assistant director of music at Gordon Memorial.
“Jesse Boyce was a bass player for me for years when I started my TV show in Nashville,” Dr. Bobby Jones said. “He went on to greater heights to play with Little Richard.”
Boyce started touring and recording with Little Richard in 1970, reorganized the band in 1989 at Muscle Shoals, and continued supporting him while pursuing his own vision.
Jones and Boyce went to South Africa in 1984 to fight apartheid. “We stayed one week,” Jones said. “God allowed us to go unscathed.” Their music and conversations with white pastors about “black people in South Africa had some impact. We remained friends and respected each others’ work. He was quiet and unassuming.”
He was one of Nashville’s A Team sessions musicians, three-time Grammy nominee, a Music Row production house vice president and an ordained minister, pastoring several churches.
Boyce produced “The Intentional Healing” documentary on legendary musicians facing cancer. “It was released in the spring to inform people about prostate cancer,” Boyce’s personal assistant, Debbie Rouse, said. “He’d been battling cancer for 14-15 years. It went into remission. In 2014, it showed up again.”
At Gordon Memorial, Little Richard expanded previous praise. Boyce was the best bass player he ever had and he was grateful to have had him 35 years, noting his loyalty and devotion to family. They recently visited at Richard’s nearby country home.
Boyce was New Covenant Christian Church’s music minister for six years until January, leading a balanced program with gospel, Negro spirituals, anthems and praise music. He grew the choir from five to 25.
“He was serious about his ministry … [and] … socially conscience,” Dr. Judy Cummings said. “He did the music for our civil rights marches in the city. He was a master of creating worship around liberation theology. Giving people a voice was important to him.”
His story’s registered with The Library of Congress. Boyce worked with Duke Ellington, Lou Rawls, Peabo Bryson, Moses Dillard and The Dynamic Showmen, The Fame Gang, Clark Sisters, Shirley Caesar, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, The Osmond Brothers, Candy Staton, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, The Commodores, Albertina Walker, Luther Vandross, John Hiatt, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, The Ray of Hope Band, and Carol Ann’s All-Stars.
Boyce was educated at Sterling High in Greenville, S.C., American Baptist College where later he was a dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Memphis Theological Seminary.
Buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, he’s survived by his wife, Asieren; children, Jesse L. (Jennifer) Boyce, Chicago, Rosalind (Albert) Walden, Nashville, Adrienne (Timothy) Hendrix, Houston; stepmother Leona Griffin, Santee, S.C.; sister Dorothy (Larry) Harris, Asheville; brother Tommy James, Greenville; step-sisters Linda Bembery, Bridgeport, Conn., Sandy Herring, Los Angeles; step-brother Kenneth Dennis, Bridgeport; grandchildren Antonio Cantrell, Efrem McGee Jr., Kristen (Marques) Santiago, Albert Walden Jr., Brandon McGee; great-grandchildren, Marques Santiago Jr., Albert Walden III, Izaiah Santiago, Efrem McGee III; sister-in-law Constance Ann Brown, and many more relatives.