Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Obituaries

Composer and Musician William Pursell Dies At 94

Article Pixel

Pursell died of Covid related pneumonia.

Composer and Musician William Pursell Dies At 94

BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that William "Bill" Pursell has died of Covid related pneumonia.

The legendary composer and musician, William "Bill" Pursell, was born in Oakland, California and raised in Tulare. He studied composition at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and arranged for the U.S. Air Force Band while serving in World War II. Bill Pursell studied classical composition under Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and earned a mastera in composition in the mid-fifties. His symphonic poem âœhrist Looking Over Jerusalemâ (the first movement of âœhree Biblical Scenes for Orchestraâ was the inaugural recipient of the Edward B. Benjamin Prize in 1953.

In 1960, Pursell moved to Nashville at the invitation of Eddy Arnold. By 1962 he signed as a solo artist with Columbia Records, who released the album "Our Winter Love" the following year. Pursell's "Our Winter Love" became one of the biggest selling recordings of 1963 and has carved out a small but meaningful niche for itself in the annals of pop history. The title track reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and #20 on the Black Singles chart. The album reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The arrangements for the album were made by Bill Justis and Pursell, and the orchestra was conducted by Grady Martin. His follow up single âœovedâ reached Billboard position 121. Pursell later recorded for Epic, Decca, Word, Henry Stoneâ Alston, Dot, and many other labels. A highlight of his career was playing with Chet Atkins for the press corps dinner at the White House for President John F. Kennedy (Pictured Far right with other noted performers including Bob Moore, Buddy Harman, Shelley Winters, Alan King, Chet Adkins, and President Kennedy center).

Later that decade, he worked with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and taught at Tennessee State and Vanderbilt University. Through the 1960s and 1970s, he continued to work as a session pianist to some of the most recognized names in the industry including Johnny Cash, Boots Randolph, Chet Atkins, Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Johnny Paycheck, Hoover, Joan Baez, Eric Andersen, Scotty Moore, J.J. Cale, Willie Nelson, Dan Fogelberg, Bob Dylan and others. He earned two Grammy nominations, one for his work on "Listen" for Ken Medema in 1974 and the second for his arrangement of "We Three Kings" for National Geographic in 1978. In 1980, ursell began his long career as a composition professor at Belmont University, He was named Composer of the Year in 1985 by the Tennessee Music Teachers Association. His Symphony no. 2, "Heritage," was commissioned by Victor Johnson and the Nashville Symphony and premiered in 1989. As Belmont composition faculty, he shared his knowledge with talents such as Trisha Yearwood and Brad Paisley (to name a few) and in 1991 completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree (DMA) with distinction at Eastman School of Music.

Pursell is survived by stepdaughters Ellen Spicer and Margaret Pursell, and his children Laura Pursell and Bill Pursell. He is preceded in death by daughter Sharon Pursell in 2012 and wife Julie Pursell in 2018. His daughter Laura is an actress and singer who has continued with family tradition and legacy with 5 albums including their 2015 CD together, "The Very Last Dance Hall Left in L.A." Like her father before her, she also gave a presidential performance for Betty and President Gerald Ford. They were collaborating on another album with a planned completion in 2020.

Pursell was named Professor Emeritus of Music when he retired from Belmont University School of Music in 2017 after 37 years of service. You can read about his adventures in Crooked River City: The Musical LIfe of Nashville's William Pursell (2018, Terry Klefstad).

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Belmont University School of Music William Whitney Pursell Scholarship in Composition: (615) 460-6408. Funeral arrangements to be announced shortly.


Related Articles

More Hot Stories For You