Sharron Lyon quietly and peacefully passed away this past Friday evening. To many, she will always be remembered as an organist. And rightfully so. She spent 40 faithful years on the bench at Nashville First Baptist Church. But to me and many others in our industry, she will also be remembered as a producer and an editor. And one of the finest in our business. And even if countless church musicians around the world didn’t necessarily know her name (while most did, I’m sure), most of them were touched by her work whether they realized it or not.
I was a 17-year-old high school student when I first saw the name Sharron Lyon on the back of a record listed as the producer. It was a Broadman Press recording of the cantata our youth choir was doing that year. I was interested in the music business even in those days, and fascinated with recording credits and trying to understand from afar how those recordings were made. The first thing I noticed was that Sharron’s first name had a double “r” in it instead of a single “r” the name usually carried. After getting to know Sharron personally many years later, I decided the unique spelling of her first name was entirely appropriate because of the true uniqueness of the person behind it.
After noticing Sharron’s name on those first recording credits, as I dug into reading more recording credits, I found that her name was everywhere on ones from the past and present (and in the years to come). And also on publications she edited. She was one busy lady! The name “Sharron Lyon” quickly became synonymous with “quality” in my mind. Whatever she produced and/or edited, I knew it would be done with the greatest of professionalism, care, and musicianship.
While in graduate school at the University of Tennessee, as my interest in the music business continued to grow and I decided to write my master’s thesis on music publishing, I sought to observe my first professional recording session. Accordingly, I reached out to my favorite Broadman stars. When I was able to gain access to Mark Blankenship and explain my mission, he invited me to sit in on a session which was produced by none other than Sharron Lyon. For two days inside a Nashville recording studio, I soaked in her mastery of the process. She often credited the legendary Buryl Red for taking her under his seasoned producer’s wing, and it showed.
And speaking of Buryl Red, when he and Ragan Courtney recorded their watershed musical Celebrate Life! (first released in 1972), it was Sharron Lyon they chose to record its organ-only prelude and postlude. And when the musical’s publisher re-recorded and re-released the work almost 20 years after its original release, they found no reason to re-record only two cuts: the prelude and postlude. They simply re-used Sharron’s original recording of each. A tribute to her timeless musicianship that simply couldn’t be duplicated for that classic.
When I officially entered the music business with my first job in 1989 at Brentwood Music, I soon sought out Sharron for lunches and time to pick her brain a bit. She graciously agreed having remembered that once upon a time recording session I sat in on. Upon her eventual retirement years later, she agreed to assist me as a part-time editor/proofer of the many publications I was publishing (and also train some brand-new editors I had hired). What a dream come true to work with and get to know even better the inimitable Sharron Lyon. We swapped bushels of emails and texts through those wonderful years, had numerous phone calls and lunches (The Puffy Muffin and Cheesecake Factory were two of her favorites), and shared endless laughs. And she never missed an opportunity to encourage me. I also tried to absorb her tremendous wisdom. Her genuine faith was never worn on her sleeve, but always present, beautiful, and a source of inspiration.
Sharron was truly a “publisher’s publisher.” She got it all at a deep level, from song conception and production to sales and marketing. Even in her later years, when we would have lunch or a phone call, she was brimming with great ideas and encouragement. And she never decried how the contemporary worship movement impacted traditional worship (including her beloved instrument of the organ), but championed only the highest quality church music regardless of style, believing “the cream always rises to the top.”
Sharron launched the careers of numerous (now very well known) composers, arrangers, and singers…much too many to enumerate here. She knew how to spot true talent and nurture it to its highest and best, while happily and humbly remaining behind the scenes.
To be with Sharron at lunch or a meeting was consistently a treat. She was always impeccably dressed, yet very approachable, completely down to earth, and ever warm and wonderful. She spoke with the accent of a true Steel Magnolia and was consistently up to date on all things relevant. She had a quiet and calming Southern elegance about her that invariably made you feel as if you were enjoying a cool glass of lemonade on the front porch of your favorite friend on a peaceful summer Sunday afternoon. And all the while being fully engaged sharing exciting ideas, goals, and dreams.
Sometimes before a lunch with her, I would grab from my personal collection one of those records or choral books she produced back in the day and then “unveil” it at lunch. She would smile, laugh, and humbly not take any credit for its success and quality. But she satisfied my interest by telling me a few great back stories about its production. Precious memories. My last visit with her at the beautiful senior living community in Brentwood where she had moved was fun and unforgettable. She was as encouraging and delightful as ever, still brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.
Thank you, Sharron. We love you and will always miss you (but look forward to a Heavenly reunion). And now that your earthly labors are completed and you are at rest, the keys you played for decades are at rest, too. But may those of us whose earthly journeys aren’t quite completed yet not let you down. May we continue to be inspired and act accordingly because of your influence and shining life example. The keys, music, and countless lives you touched will resonate forever.