Actor, writer, producer, director, motivational speaker and voice-over artist
Nashville’s theater community lost a big, brilliant voice this year — both literally and figuratively. William Barry Scott — the veteran actor, writer, producer, director, motivational speaker and voice-over artist — died Sept. 10 at the age of 65.
The Nashville native was the founder and producing artistic director of the American Negro Playwright Theatre at Tennessee State University, the same institution from which he, his parents and grandparents graduated. He took on many iconic roles locally — including works from Shakespeare, August Wilson and more — though his résumé also includes plenty of regional stage, film and television credits. He was an accomplished writer with a number of scripts to his name, including Ain’t Got Long to Stay Here, a moving tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that Scott performed extensively throughout the nation. His rich, velvety voice could be heard on countless commercials and promotions — from spots for ESPN, the NFL and the NBA to work with the Nashville Symphony.
But beyond his considerable creative endeavors, Scott remained focused on the needs of his community. Under his leadership, the ANPT consistently churned out ambitious and relevant work. And he took particular joy in having legendary Black theater artists such as Robert Guillaume and Woodie King Jr. come to Nashville to direct various productions.
Offstage, Scott was widely known for his incredible warmth and generosity. No matter how busy he might be, there was always time to connect with former students and colleagues. And he constantly looked for ways to provide meaningful support — whether it was simply sharing a bit of encouragement or offering a free weeklong audition intensive for young artists.
“As a young Black artist, I looked up to Barry,” director Jon Royal told the Scene in September. “I wanted to be him. So to sit there running lines with him, watching him do the work — it was amazing. It’s hard to express just how important ANPT was for this community. For Black artists to have that kind of training ground was everything. He was instrumental in the development of so many important local artists.”
“It was always about community for Barry,” actor Tamiko Robinson Steele told the Scene. “He had such unabashed love for Nashville, and was such a positive influence for so many of us. My heart breaks to think that we’ll no longer be able to experience the brilliance of his artistry and humanity. But I’m so grateful for his love and friendship, and all that he taught me along the way.” —Amy Stumpfl
Almost from the start of his life, it was apparent how David Climer would spend the rest of it. He started writing for Lebanon Junior High’s newspaper The Chum even before he attended the school. He and a friend started their own newspaper. He wrote for Lebanon High’s paper The Devil’s Advocate. And he kept moving up, first to the Lebanon Democrat, and then a part-time gig for The Tennessean covering University of Tennessee sports. In the 1970s, that was the biggest, most important beat in sportswriting in the state. Climer did it as an undergrad.
He joined the staff at 1100 Broadway covering TSU full-time after college — in 1994, just as Nashville was on the cusp of becoming a major-league city. By that time, Climer was one of the most well-informed reporters in town, sports or otherwise. (One of journalism’s secrets is that sportswriters are frequently the most well-sourced folks on staff; they also know the best places to eat.) He covered the arrival of the Predators and the Titans, a UT national title, a Super Bowl and everything else that happened on a field, court or rink before his retirement in 2015.
The changes in the city’s sports landscape in 40-some-odd years might have overwhelmed a lesser talent, suddenly finding themselves out of their depth. But David Climer set the modern standard for a Nashville sports columnist, winning award after award as well as the admiration of his colleagues and competitors. For a city that didn’t join the big leagues until the tail end of the 20th century, Nashville has been blessed in giving the world some of the brightest lights in sportswriting: Grantland Rice, Fred Russell and, yes, David Climer. Climer prided himself on being a journalist first, not just a sportswriter. To wit, he was nearby when the bomb exploded during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and he grabbed his laptop and wrote up a story while sitting on a curb. His sharp writing and deep reporting continued to be a welcome respite from the facile hot-takery and clickbait controversy-for-its-own-sake that became the unfortunate norm in sportswriting. Climer died Jan. 19 after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 66. — J.R. LIND
Drag queen, activist and entertainer
Paige Turner — born Darrell Lee Myers in Cookeville, Tenn. — died in her home on the Fourth of July at just 33 years old. She was an actress, activist, musician, dancer and aerialist. Most recognizably, she was a fabulous, bawdy and stunningly gorgeous drag queen whose short-lived but prolific career put her on every major drag stage in the city. She werked the nightclub stages of Play, Tribe, Ibiza and the now-defunct Mad Donna’s, where she regularly hosted bingo night, and even kiki’d the more do-it-yourself stages at clubs and event spaces that hosted pop-up drag nights. She recorded and co-wrote original music, appeared in music videos and ABC’s Nashville, and had notable screen time in Robin Williams’ last feature, Boulevard.
Turner was known to be extremely generous, and often tied her performances to fundraising efforts for people living with HIV or those experiencing homelessness. Turner was an animal lover and often volunteered at the Nashville Humane Society. In an interview with Out & About Nashville, fellow queen Raquel Redd recalled meeting Paige Turner for the first time. “I was a little fish out of water,” said Redd. “She was the first one to come over and say, ‘Hey, girl.’ ” Redd referred to Turner as her “drag sister,” describing her as “the one who would keep me under her wing.” Sisterhood is a term used in drag communities to signify the love, mentorship and mutual support that define the kinship bonds of family.
In spite of the wildly successful empire created by RuPaul’s Drag Race, the paradox of drag culture is that it seems ubiquitous, yet it’s still misunderstood by many as an art form. As drag continues to slip into the mainstream, making celebrities of some, many queens still face the same neglect and abandonment from society and their nuclear families that LGBTQIA+ persons have long experienced. Queens can often face violence on two fronts — as both their persona and the individual behind that persona. And that’s why the kind of chosen-family bond shared by Raquel Redd and Paige Turner remains an essential part of the culture. We have come a long way, but we still have so far to go. Paige Turner understood that, and she lived by example. She will be remembered with honor by her community. May you rest in pride, Paige Turner, legendary sister, mother and queen. —Tiffany Minton
It’s rare that anybody stays in the same job for 45 years. But Jimmy Davy wasn’t just anybody.
With his wide glasses and his gypsum-white hair, Davy was the dean of Nashville sportswriters when he retired in 1998, just on the cusp of his hometown’s move into the big leagues. Over five decades at The Tennessean, he covered golf and high school sports, but Vanderbilt sports was the beat he’d make his own. He gained national recognition — and a place on the Pulitzer Prize short list — for his reporting in 1985 on illegal steroid use in Vandy athletics.
A graduate of old North High School, the lifelong Nashvillian became something of a public intellectual as his career went on. Sure, he knew damn near everything about Nashville sports (a decade after his retirement, The Tennessean brought him back to help select the all-time Nashville high school football team, because Davy never forgot anything), but he knew damn near everything else about his hometown too. He’d pop onto Teddy Bart’s Roundtable and give speeches to Rotary Clubs and Junior Leagues, his old-school, high-and-lonesome Nashville twang sharing stories long since forgotten.
Davy died April 30. He was 87. — J.R. LIND
Thom W. King
Writer, photographer, entrepreneur
Nashville lost an important contributor to the city’s arts and media communities with the April death of writer, photographer, videographer and entrepreneur Thom W. King at the too-young age of 65. King began his media career while in high school in the ’70s, writing a weekly teen-oriented column for the Review-Appeal newspaper in Franklin. Thom opened the King Brothers Productions photography studio with his brother John and friend Tom Rutherford in the mid-1970s. During the same time period, King formed the local rock band Hardscuffle, and also opened one of the first recording studios in Franklin.
In 1977, King launched Take One, the first alternative magazine in Nashville, which ran until 1980, providing coverage of the city’s then-budding local arts and music scene as well as topical issues like the death penalty, political corruption and the environment. King later co-founded the short-lived Metro Reader with former Take One editor Daryl Sanders and writer/businessman John Lomax III. King served as the staff photographer for the U.S. Department of Commerce at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and continued to write throughout the ’80s, contributing to The Metro magazine and the Nashville Scene and also penning two books on personal relationships.
In the early 2000s, King worked with several prominent Nashvillians in co-writing their memoirs, most notably country music legend Danny Davis of the Nashville Brass. King wrote or co-wrote a total of 53 books over his lifetime. In recent years, King worked to build a young independent film community in Nashville. With the Nashville Filmmakers Group, he mentored aspiring talents while keeping busy himself shooting “micro-budget” independent films, music videos, TV pilots and commercials. King’s influence on the local arts community is incalculable, and his presence will be missed. —Rev. Keith A. Gordon
Allen Garfield was one of those actors who brought something special to every role he ever touched. Just about every actor strives to find that core of the real, and the relatable, in even the most baroque of performances. But when you step back as a viewer and look at a career that spans directors of all manner of philosophy and stylization, and you still perceive the throughline of this singular presence? That says something.
He worked with Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Robert Downey Sr., Francis Ford Coppola, Tony Scott, Wim Wenders, even Donald Cammell! Garfield will forever be tied to this city because of 1975’s Nashville, wherein he found some degree of humanity in that most disrespected of personae: the manager-spouse. His Barnett in that film is a life hewn out of countless if/then situations, feeding on yet devoted to a mercurial and genuine talent teetering perpetually on the edge of collapse. It’s a harsh role, and Garfield found his way through the many facets of that character, a performance that resonates to this day.
Working even after a stroke paralyzed parts of his face in the late ’90s, and then fully retiring in the early Aughts, Garfield was but one of the many people we’ve lost to COVID-19. He died on April 7 in Los Angeles at age 80 — a remarkable life ending in preventable tragedy. —Jason Shawhan
Contemporary Christan musician, interior designer, reality TV personality
A native of Odessa, Texas, Jonathan Pierce made the move to Nashville after high school and soon began singing with the Christ Church Choir. An introduction from the legendary Naomi Judd led to Pierce’s joining contemporary Christan group The Imperials, and soon he was cutting albums both solo and with the Gaither Vocal Band. Pierce’s journey eventually led him to interior design, a calling that landed him on CMT’s Ultimate Country Home, VH1’s LeAnn & Eddie and HGTV’s Interiors, Inc.
“I cannot tell you how much I laughed with that man,” country star LeAnn Rimes told Out & About Nashville in May. “He was a joy to be around, and his joy is what I will miss about him the most.”
Pierce died following complications from heart surgery. He was 52. —D. Patrick Rodgers
Green Acres star
For people of a certain generation, the rural South was what they saw on CBS — shows like The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. Tom Lester, who played farmhand Eb Dawson on Green Acres and also appeared on Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies, was one of that era’s most visible representatives. Lester was born in Mississippi in 1938, and moved to Hollywood after feeling called by God to become an actor. He died in Nashville at the home of his caregiver and fiancée Jackie Peters on April 20 from complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 81. —Laura Hutson Hunter