When you make a list of all the most important things in life,
you may include some treasures which you own.
But if you're like me, at the top of the list will be,
The very special people you have known.
The world is a much nicer place for me and you
Because of a favorite much loved face or two.
-- Loonis McGlohon
Loonis McGlohon was, first and foremost, a musician. He was also a renowned composer, an entrepreneur, a mentor and a good friend. Loonis died on January 26 after battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for nine or so years.
He was probably best known to most folks for co-writing North Carolina Is My Home with Charles Kuralt. But Loonis' legacy stretches much further and wider than that. A piano player (which is an understatement), he began to play in bands while he was in college at East Carolina. After college, a tour of duty with the Army Air Force Band and -- most important-- marrying his college sweetheart Nan, Loonis settled in Charlotte. Over the years, he worked with, among others, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Eileen Farrell and composer Alec Wilder.
Along the way, he began a side career as a pioneer television broadcaster, first bringing jazz and other music to the fledgling WBTV in a late night show. Then he also encouraged younger musicians in the region with a show called Newcomers. It was Loonis who encouraged a 15-year-old by the name of Don Dixon and brought Dixon and his band on the show.
"I think Loonis liked that I played upright (bass)," Dixon says. Loonis also invited the young Dixon to play recording sessions. "He was very funny and could be opinionated, but he was also good-natured about it."
Dixon went on to success as a producer for REM and Smithereens, among others. In later years, Dixon reports with a laugh, "I heard from many different sources that Loonis would say he lost me to rock." Nevertheless, they stayed in touch, still exchanging musical ideas.
Maybe it was the fact that he was a musician and an entertainer, but life around Loonis was never boring or stuffy. In all the tributes that have been pouring out in recent years, he's sort of been pigeonholed as "Charlotte's grand old man of music," as Dixon put it. But Loonis himself and his career were much more than that.
Loonis was constantly exploring and contributing to all sorts of projects -- documentaries, jazz festivals and more. Back in the late 1960s he was involved with a theme park built in the NC mountains called The Land of Oz, based on the Wizard of Oz books and movie. The theme park folded after a time, and somehow Loonis ended up with some of the original Munchkin costumes from the movie. In another venture, he recorded some music for a children's record called "It's Potty Time" -- yep, music to help kids learning to use the bathroom by themselves. It's pretty silly but the tunes were catchy and just right for children. Reports are it became popular on college campuses, and one of the songs was used in a singing toy bear. One of his most recent ventures was the development of a musical comedy based on the infamous Loomis Fargo heist.
The minister at Loonis' funeral said that at about 10 minutes to 1, he watched cars filling up the church parking lot for a 2pm service. "Loonis," the minister continued, "would be tickled to death that his service is the hottest ticket in town."
Standing in line at the visitation the night before the service with hundreds of other folks, I was struck by how jovial the crowd was -- there was soft laughter, lots of hugging and lots of cries of "Hello! I haven't seen you in ages!"
We all made new friends as we stood in line -- something else Loonis would have loved. As a friend of Loonis, you were automatically included in his huge circle of friends. I met Loonis years ago through my husband, Mark, a recording engineer and producer, who was fortunate enough to have worked with Loonis on a number of records through the 80s and early 90s.
Over and over, I've heard people say that Loonis made them feel like they were his best friend. He had that unique ability to focus on you as an individual and make you feel special. He was a good listener. He was also a magnificent storyteller.
He told wonderful anecdotes about people, some famous, most not so famous. He'd get a twinkle in his eye and flash his patented smile and start. Even in normal conversation he had a wonderful, melodic voice.
"Loonis was an amazing accompanist," Dixon says. "He had an incredibly quick mind, musically. And he had this tremendous empathy for the people he worked with. He really paid attention to the artist."
He paid attention to his friends, too. At the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, Loonis was gracious enough to sing "Happy Birthday" for my mom and to play some impromptu piano. It's one of my best memories in a weekend of good memories.
Most times, the talented and creative artists who live among us aren't really recognized as such. They may be acknowledged but it's more like "That's just Alice who paints" or "George who plays the guitar"; they're our neighbors and friends, how could they be famous? Loonis was an unassuming guy -- "down to earth" as the saying goes -- and you'd never have realized he was so well known as a musician and composer. Thankfully, folks here in his adopted hometown have long acknowledged Loonis and even named the main theater at Spirit Square after him. But he never rested on his laurels -- Loonis gave a lot back to the community, playing at charity functions of all sorts and lending his "star" power as a draw.
We will all miss him, but his legacy is assured with his family, his friends and music lovers everywhere. Here's to you, Loonis!*