Brown remembered for work in community

Published 9:36 pm Monday, September 24, 2012

John Willis Brown, an accomplished musician who served as music director for multiple Canebrake Players and Demopolis High School productions, died unexpectedly Saturday. He was 51.

Those groups and many others are remembering Brown this week as a kind man with a great talent.

“He loved the Canebrake. He just fell in love with that small community theater and the family atmosphere,” said Laurie Willingham, president of the Canebrake Players board of directors. “He was very talented with the keyboard and sang like an angel.”

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Brown had worked with Canebrake since 2011, serving as music director for “Ring of Fire” he also had a solo performance in that production. He returned as music director for this summer’s “Oliver!” and had a key part as parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

Brown had worked longer with the theater department at Demopolis High School. He started with the school after DHS was awarded a grant to bring in guest artists to mentor and work with students.

“He literally knew music inside and out,” said Jody Tartt, Demopolis High theater teacher. “There is a cliche in theater that everyone is replaceable, but not John Brown. He is not replaceable.”

Brown worked with DHS for more than five years on nine different productions, including “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Godspell,” “Hairspray,” and “Alice and Wonderland.”

“He did help build a program that did not exist,” Tartt said. “John was a dreamer. Nothing to John was impossible. If you had the resources to do it, why not shoot for the stars…he really taught me how to dream a little bigger.”

In addition to his work in theater, Brown was director of worship arts at First Presbyterian Church in Livingston and pianist at Brewersville United Methodist Church. He was cofounder and music director of Sumter Theatre Workshop and longtime board member of The Coleman Center for Arts in York.

A memorial service celebrating Brown’s life in performing arts and his love of the classics will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Livingston on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. Interment will follow at York City Cemetery.

He is survived by sister Sandy McClung, niece Heather McClung, nephew Keith Brown and constant companion, Biscuit.