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January 7, 2014

Musician earns Hall of Honor

ATLANTA — For much of his life Jerry Murkerson was a little bit country and a little bit gospel, but in recent years the former public school teacher has been focusing on the latter.

Murkerson, a relatively new transplant to Colquitt County moved here after he retired from teaching math for 27 years and he married Colquitt County Clerk Deborah Murkerson, with whom he performs.

Murkerson, 61, taught his wife to play both the upright and electric bass, and they perform at churches, senior centers and other venues as The Murkersons.

Recently he was inducted into the Hall of Honor at the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. The recognition is a highlight in a musical life that was sparked by growing up in a family of musicians.

“I had no idea,” Jerry Murkerson said of his nomination and letter notifying him of the award. “It was just a wonderful, pleasant surprise. I was blown away. Nothing like this has ever happened to me.”

Murkerson was introduced to bluegrass music by his Uncle Raymond “Buddy” Hand, he said.

“He loved bluegrass music,” he said. “When other kids were out playing, I used to be at his feet watching him and my other relatives playing. I hope I’ve inherited that passion from him.”

His mother and father also contributed, buying instruments and taking him to places to perform.

 In nominating Murkerson, R.H. “Ray” Boyett, a 2012 honoree, noted Murkerson’s musical range.

“Jerry plays all five instruments normally found in a bluegrass band. He plays bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin, and he plays them all very well,” Boyett’s letter said. “Personally, my favorite instrument to hear him play is the mandolin.

“Of special note is Jerry’s mandolin playing with the world famous bluegrass gospel group, The Sullivan Family, on several occasions in the states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Further, he and the bluegrass group he formed has fronted for Mountain Heart and Confederate Railroad.”

In addition, Boyett said, Murkerson, who began his musical training at about 8 years old, has influenced students of country, bluegrass and gospel music over the years.

“He taught many students how to play the instruments mentioned earlier, and he has taught his lovely wife, Deborah, to play the bass.”

After playing both country and gospel venues, Murkerson said he has decided to concentrate on the gospel side.

In May 2011 he founded the Gospel Jam held on third Saturdays in Bainbridge, where he still performs. The venue was established to bring together musicians of all levels of playing ability and features Southern gospel, country gospel and bluegrass gospel.

He also plays occasionally with gospel group The Morris Family from Eufala, Ala., traveling with them in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He also plays at an acoustic jam, also in Bainbridge, on third Fridays and fourth Saturdays in Vernon, Fla.

With his wife he also performs at churches and senior groups where invited.

“We don’t charge, we do it because we love it,” he said. “We play at just wherever we’re asked. If they want to give us a love offering for expenses, that’s great.

“That’s what we want to do, is play gospel now. That’s our heart and our life.”

Among Murkerson’s favorite moments were occasions when he played at the Georgia Mountain Fair, where he performed on the porch of the old general store.

Another was meeting Roy Clark.

“That was great because I learned to play the banjo by watching him on TV,” Murkerson said. “I got to tell him that.”

He also is thrilled by the Nov. 30 ceremony in Atlanta.

After a close call with the heart condition known as “the widow” maker and open heart surgery in August 2011, he is enjoying the time he has playing music with Deborah.

“I treasure every day,” he said “Every day is a gift for me. I know it; Deborah knows it.”

The Murkersons can be contacted at (229) 985-5808 or (229) 400-0293, or by email at jwmgospeljam@gmail.com.

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