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A proper jazz sendoff
Ben Tucker's memorial service was somber yet celebratory
"When the Saints Go Marching In": The second line heads to Ellis Square folowing Ben Tucker's funeral service. Monday, June 10. - photo by Geoff L. Johnson

Ben Tucker probably would have laughed loudest at the stories his family, friends and colleagues told about him during Monday's memorial service at Lutheran Church of the Ascension.

Reuben Tucker talked about being mistaken for his identical twin at a particularly inconvenient moment. Westin Resort manager Mark Spadoni discussed Ben's singular prowess on the golf course. Several speakers brought up the time Ben inadvertently sat on the sheet cake at a party celebrating his 80th birthday ("and he put out the candle with his you-know-what," offered Savannah Music Festival director Rob Gibson).

The mood was somber but celebratory during the two-hour service. Tucker's bass, "Bertha," stood at attention near the casket. Every seat in the sanctuary was filled, as was a downstairs meeting room where a closed-circuit television feed has been hastily installed.

Ben's doctor, his first realtor, Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and State Representative J. Craig Gordon were among those who praised Tucker's civic spirit, his always-positive attitude and his dedication to helping young people get a foothold on life.

A jazz combo played between the speakers, the hymns and the prayers, as if to remind everyone that music — and its soothing, redemptive power — was a very large part of Ben's life.

Toward the end of the service, the group (Teddy Adams, Howard Paul, Jody Espina, Delbert Felix, Quentin Baxter and Kevin Bales) produced a beautiful rendition of the Tucker composition "Right Here, Right Now." Huxsie Scott then sang a bluesy "Comin' Home Baby," Ben's best-known song.

Wayne Tucker, Ben's son, told a story that, for many, best illustrated how the great man ticked.

"When my father and Gloria moved here in 1972, Savannah was not the cosmopolitan place it is now," he said. "When my father bought WSOK, the first day he shows up for work, all the important staff walked out, because they didn't want to work for a black man. It was not a good time. There were a lot of death threats. Dead cats left on our porch."

After a while, the son challenged the father to take a stand.

"I said 'Dad, did you hear what that guy said to you? Give him the business. What the hell?'

"And he said 'Son, that's not my problem. That's their problem.'

"He said 'That person has hate in his heart. I don't have room for that.'"