Nunc dimittis: Joyce Jones and Leon S. ("Lee") Nelson

April 29, 2022

Joyce Jones

Joyce Jones, 89, died February 28 in Waco, Texas. Born in 1933, her career spanned over seven decades, performing in all fifty states and abroad, including venues such as the Riverside Church, the Mormon Tabernacle, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, and Meyerson Symphony Center. She was the first woman to perform on the organ at the Crystal Cathedral, the first organist to play for the Grand Teton Music Festival, and the only female organist to play with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at the inauguration of the Ruffatti organ in Davies Symphony Hall. She was a featured performer at American Guild of Organists regional and national conventions, including the Centennial National Convention in New York City in 1996.

Jones was the Joyce Oliver Bowden Professor of Organ and organist in residence at Baylor University, Waco, from 1969 until her retirement in 2012. In 2010, she was honored with the Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award. She earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas and her Master of Sacred Music degree in composition from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary presented her its Distinguished Service Award in 1989. She was also a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists. She composed numerous published works, including the organ method King of Instruments, and she recorded for the Word, Rosenhaus, and Motette labels.

Jones was perhaps the greatest proponent of the AGO’s Pipe Organ Encounters (POE) program for youth, having directed and hosted more POEs than any other person. She was honored as the recipient of the 2010 AGO Endowment Fund Distinguished Artist Award Recital and Gala Benefit Reception.

Joyce Jones was widely recognized for her organ technique in performances of such works as “The Flight of the Bumblebee.” She was a perpetual ambassador of the organ to the world through her community concerts, organ dedication recitals, children’s concerts, and “Access to Music” programs. At her debut with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, she was the only organist to be presented the G. B. Dealey Award. Other honors include the National Federation of Music Clubs’ highest award, a National Citation, in 1997, and in 1998 the highest award given by the professional music fraternity, Mu Phi Epsilon, only the eighth recipient in 96 years. In 2001 Jones was inducted into the Walter Gilewicz Hall of Fame at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas. In 2003, she received the Texas Music Teachers Association award as the outstanding collegiate teacher of the year. The Létourneau organ in Markham Organ Studio at Baylor University is named in her honor.

A funeral was held March 14 at Seventh and James Baptist Church, Waco. Burial followed next to her husband, Robert C. Jones, in Oakwood Cemetery.

Leon S. "Lee" Nelson

Leon “Lee” S. Nelson of Vernon Hills, Illinois, died March 20. Born October 1, 1942, in Baudette, Minnesota, and receiving his early music training in Toronto, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, as a college student. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute, Chicago; Trinity College (now Trinity International University), Deerfield, Illinois; and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, with degrees in organ, church music, and choral conducting. He studied organ with Robert Rayfield, Robert Lodine, Lillian Robinson, and Paul Manz, and conducting with Robert Carbaugh, John Paynter, and Paul Aliapoulios.

Nelson’s church music career spanned more than 50 years, serving at the Hillside Church of Evanston, Illinois, followed by 37 years of full-time work for First Presbyterian Church, Deerfield, Illinois, from 1971 until 1994, and then at First Presbyterian Church, Arlington Heights, Illinois, retiring from the latter in June 2008. At the Arlington Heights church, he directed the 70-voice Chancel Choir, organized a concert series, and developed a men’s chorus and a chamber singers ensemble. Since then, he served as director of traditional music for Southminster Presbyterian Church, Arlington Heights. Nelson was principal guest organist at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, where he played for Sunday evening services between 1978 and 1998, and for eight years was organist for Songs in the Night radio program broadcast over 300 stations worldwide.

Nelson served on the faculty of North Park University for 28 years as university organist, teaching organ and music history, retiring in 2012. He was also a published composer and a regular contributor to The Diapason with frequent reviews of choral and handbell music.

Leon “Lee” S. Nelson is survived by his daughters Julie (David) Merilatt and Katie (James) Reid, his brother Eugene (Shirly), and several nieces and nephews. A memorial service was held April 2 at First Presbyterian Church, Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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