Dr. T. R. Bryan Wilkes Heritage Music Award:  Jimmy Church

Jimmy Church

James Silas “Jimmy” Church was well known in the western North Carolina area as a country music singer and guitarist. He was born June 22, 1937 in Wilkes County to Silas and Bessie Holman Church. His dad taught him to play the straight guitar, which was the first of many instruments he played. His band, Jimmy Church and the Gems performed at numerous venues in the area for decades along with countless benefits such as muscular dystrophy and other charitable organizations.

Jimmy Church and the Gems played as the house band for Tweetsie Railroad theme park near Blowing Rock, playing for more than 200,000 people. Gospel music was a special love of Jimmy’s and he played throughout his life at churches and other religious events. He recorded two records, “Be Nobody’s Darling but Mine” with Christine Horton and “Ruby” with the Gems.

Church signed a contract in Nashville with Mary Reeves, wife of the late Jim Reeves and shared the stage with artists such as Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Marty Stuart, Jim Ed Brown, Dale Reeves and the Wilburn Brothers. The Gems appeared on the Nashville Music “You can Be A Star” show at Music City, USA and received the Outstanding Entertainment award. He taught his children, grandchildren and many others to play music and often performed with family members. He made music a full time profession and his group included his sons, Jimmy Jr., playing the steel guitar and singing, Rickey on the drums and Bud playing the bass guitar. His youngest son Chris was a featured soloist for many years with the Gems. His grandson David Gambill began playing with him at the age of twelve and continues to perform with the training he received from his grandfather. Christine Horton of Ferguson played piano with the Gems for 13 years; Clay Wilson and Lloyd Church were other fellow band members for many years.

He was also an experienced radio announcer, having worked as a disc jockey at WFMX in Statesville and WQXZ in Taylorsville. He always wanted to stay in the local area. His love for music and his talent showed through each performance whether it was playing for the governor or playing for a family reunion. His musical ability allowed him many opportunities to visit with government officials, movie stars, sports stars, and musical stars but mostly he loved the interactions with his people of western North Carolina. Jimmy Church died on February 23, 2010 at his home.

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