During the 60-plus years Mr. Wallace B. "Wally" Varner worked as a gospel
musician, he not only performed but wrote music, recorded albums for RCA,
appeared on several television shows, and had some of his songs published
in church hymnals.
The gospel musician and co-owner of Varner Music Inc. died of a rare bone
disease Tuesday (Dec. 28, 2004) at home. He was 78.
"It was a gift. He could just do it," his wife of 31 years,
Paulette M. "Polly" Varner said. "He did have a lot of music (lessons)
but he wrote, he read, he played. If he had to do a cantata with a
church choir, he would work until he memorized the music. He was really
an extremely smart man."
The lifelong resident of Winter Haven was born on Jan. 13, 1926. He began
playing the piano at the age of 7.
"His father went and borrowed 45 cents for an old upright and brought it
home when Wally was 7 years old. He couldn't even reach the pedals, and his
dad taught him the basics," Polly Varner said. "Wally became the king of
the keyboard." He attended the Stamps-Baxter School of Music in Dallas
and Chattanooga, Tenn., majoring in piano. Mr. Varner performed with
several quartets, most recently the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. He wrote
at least 40 songs that have been recorded by many gospel singing groups
He composed "Crown Him King" and "Bell of Joy Keep Ringing." His most
requested songs to play were "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace,"
Polly Varner said. "He was one of the pioneers that paved the way for the
Anthony Burger's of today's gospel music. Bill Gaither always calls him
"The one man band," she said.
Through his music, Mr. Varner formed a friendship with "Colonel" Harland
Sanders, and Mr. Varner and three of his brothers acquired 23 Kentucky
Fried Chicken stores in Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee. He and his wife
most recently operated Varner Music Inc., a gospel mail order business
they founded in 1991.
In addition to his wife, Polly, Mr. Varner is survived by his daughters,
Dale Calderoni, Tampa, Debbie Cheatwood, Winter Haven; brothers,
James Varner, Clyde Varner, Kenny Varner, all of Winter Haven, Otto Varner,
Arcadia; sisters, Rena Blackburn, Gerri Powell, both of Winter Haven,
Marcille Touchton, Tampa; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren.
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