Starkville/Tupelo-The Heavenly Choir is now being conducted by one of the all-time great musician/choirmasters that ever traversed these parts. Maestro Dr. James Bruce Lesley saw the fulfillment of his faith and met his heavenly Father on Saturday, August 10, 2019 at his residence in Starkville after an apparent sudden heart attack. J. Bruce was a multi- talented musician, a gifted Professor, a magnanimous pianist and organist and one heck of a special, unique soul. Born on August 13, 1956 at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama to the late James Herman and Shirley Pearson Lesley, Bruce grew up in Itawamba County and received his spiritual foundation attending the East Fulton Baptist Church where he played piano and organ and listened to the preaching of the late Bro. Eugene Digby. Bruce received his B.A.in Music Education at Florence State University, now University of North Alabama and completed his Masters and PhD in Music Education at the University of Mississippi. Bruce taught many years at Tupelo High School serving as Director of Choral Activities where he directed all the choirs. In l989, he débuted his conducting talents taking the THS Varsity Chorus to Carnegie Hall in New York City for a stellar and memorable performance. He continued his teaching at Mississippi University for Women where he revitalized the choirs, included men for the first time and won many accolades and awards including returning to Carnegie Hall in l996. Bruce ultimately retired as Director of Choral Activities at Mississippi State University and was named Associate Professor of Music Emeritus and Director of Choral Activities Emeritus. Over his entire teaching and directing career, he additionally managed to serve for 18 years as Choir Master and Organist at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo and several other Churches in Mississippi and Alabama. At his death, he was serving at Northside Baptist Church in Clinton. He was always in demand as a soloist, a recitalist, performing roles in musical theatre, organist, pianist and conductor. He performed at countless weddings and funerals around the country throughout his long, distinguished career. His commendations were numerous but one of his most coveted came in 2005 when he received the Earnestine Ferrell Award for outstanding contributions to Mississippi Choral Music. J. Bruce Lesley’s living was never in vain. He was a magical, colorful teacher and conductor. His performances, whether solo on the piano or organ or conducting high school or church choirs, were always experiences of awesome joy and satisfaction. He was a rare, much appreciated eclectic jewel in the many lives and worlds in which he lived.
A celebration of his life in music “and few words” will be held at 5 PM Friday, August 16, 2019 at the Tupelo Chapel of Holland Funeral Directors with former students and fellow musicians leading. Visitation will begin at 3 pm and continue until service time. There is a possibility of “funeral karaoke” afterwards for his throngs of grateful admirers. The service may be viewed at 5 PM Friday via www.hollandfuneraldirectors.com/Livestreaming for those who may not be able to attend. It has been highly suggested that, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the J. Bruce Lesley Scholarship Fund, c/o CREATE, P. O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS. 38802 for the purpose of propagating Bruce’s love of learning and music. It is also suggested that memories of Bruce be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to compile a book of reflections that will be permanently given to his family and housed at the Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State University.
In addition to thousands of devoted students and friends throughout Mississippi and all across America, Bruce leaves to mourn his home going his sister, Laura Lesley Boswell and her son, Bryan Mussleman both of Winfield, Alabama, his beloved cousins and kinsman in Itawamba County and the Shoals area and his neighbor and confidant, Mrs. Kent “Nora” Sills of Starkville.
He was preceded in death by his parents, James H. and Shirley Pearson Lesley and his grandparents, Herman A. and Alma Lesley and Huron O. and Flora B. Waddle Pearson. Holland Funeral Directors in Tupelo (662 840 5000) is honored to be chosen to share in this time of celebrating Bruce’s life.
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