Opinion » The Rant

The Rant (January 8, 2015)

About the recent passing of Ardent studio founder John Fry.



Sigh, sigh, SIGH. I remember writing on this page not so long ago that I usually handle another person's death pretty stoically, knowing that it's just a natural part of life and that it's going to happen to us all eventually. I was having a tough time reconciling the passing of Memphis singer and my much-loved friend Di Anne Price, because I knew the world would never be the same without her. It was really an odd and painful feeling.

And now, a few weeks after the passing of Ardent Studios founder John Fry, it's a testament to him that so many others around the world still can't seem to accept the loss. So much has been written about John in the past few weeks and shared on social media, and so many beautiful memories and thoughts about him have been included in donations made to organizations in his memory. The themes are universal: John was kind, talented, humble, the voice of reason, and, more than anything, someone who was always giving to others, sharing his knowledge and time, and always giving others credit and encouragement. All of that couldn't be truer. 

Huey Lewis with John Fry of Ardent Studios - COURTESY OF STAX MUSEUM
  • Courtesy of Stax Museum
  • Huey Lewis with John Fry of Ardent Studios

I don't know that I can add much more than what has already been expressed, except that John was a dear friend and a massive supporter of the Soulsville Foundation (where I work) and a member of our board of directors. For those who don't know, the Soulsville Foundation is the nonprofit organization that operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy, and the Soulsville Charter School. His past relationship with Stax Records is well documented, and John's Ardent Studios was a sister studio of sorts to Stax back in its heyday, with many of the Stax artists recording at Ardent when the Stax studios were booked up, and for other reasons. And John loved the Stax Museum and loved bringing musicians, and producers, and others there to give them his unique tour.

Soulsville Foundation CEO Calvin Stovall said, "John served on our board of directors for many years and played an integral role in the Soulsville Foundation. He was emphatically committed to everything Stax — the music, the kids, and the Memphis community. His presence and contributions to our organization will be sorely missed. A couple of weeks ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to have John himself give me a tour of Ardent Studios. It was truly one of the most memorable learning experiences I've ever had. I'll never forget it."

Stax Museum Director Lisa Allen added: "I can't imagine that anyone else has given a personal tour of the museum more times than John Fry. He was passionate about sharing the history of our music and making sure that current musicians from around the world experienced Soulsville. John became more than a music icon and board member to me; he transformed into a friend. He understood both my professional and personal struggles. Often he would email me with simple words of encouragement that meant more to me than I could ever express."

But as much as he loved the museum, John probably loved our young people more than anything. It didn't matter if it was Huey Lewis, or other high-profile artists recording at Ardent, or an up-and-coming young band from Belgium he brought for a tour, he didn't bring anyone into the museum until he explained what goes on with the young people at the Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School. He would proudly reel off details about the students' rate of improvement in mathematics and explain how studying music helped them achieve that. And this started long before he joined our board of directors. 

Another thing I loved about John was his very dry sense of humor and how hilariously cantankerous he could be at times. One of his pet peeves was getting caught up in an email thread about something usually pretty mundane, like a meeting date and time, and everyone chiming in by replying to all in the thread, thereby leaving dozens of messages in his email inbox. Drove him nuts. I laughed out loud at my desk so many times when he finally couldn't take it anymore and relayed his feeling about that to everyone. In one of the last such threads, which involved lots of people congratulating each other on something that had gone really well, he finally conceded and wrote, "Okay, if everyone is going to keep 'replying all' in this, then Bravo Zulu! If you know what that means you're way cool. If not, search it on Google."

Bravo Zulu is, of course, an old navy signal for "job well done." Bravo Zulu, John. You'll be missed.

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