Associate Professor in the School of Music Dr. Terry Klefstad recently released the biography “Crooked RIver City: The Musical Life of Nashville’s William Pursell.” In October, Klefstad and Pursell were featured on a panel about Nashville’s music history at the Southern Festival of Books.
“Crooked River City” chronicles the fascinating and varied life of Pursell who was trained to be a concert pianist but became active in all corners of musical life in America, from making orchestral arrangements for the Air Force Orchestra at the end of World War II to touring with a rhythm and blues band to studying at two of the finest music conservatories in the U.S. After coming to Nashville in 1960 at the invitation of Eddy Arnold, Pursell immediately became a fixture in Nashville recording studios.
He began teaching composition and music history at Belmont in 1980 as one of the first commercial music faculty and retired in May 2017. For Pursell, there is no division between classical and popular music; it’s all music. He would record country music with Johnny Cash in the day and then amble over to the Nashville Symphony at night to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or conduct his own Heritage Symphony. He played jazz on Printer’s Alley with Chet Atkins and Harold Bradley. His 1963 hit, “Our Winter Love,” was an instrumental easy listening tune.
Klefstad’s biography is the result of three years of interviews with Pursell and others and a thorough examination of Pursell’s personal archives and other archives such as those at the California State Library in Sacramento, the Nashville Symphony archives and more. She includes a discography and list of Pursell’s compositions. Her book tells the story of a working musician in twentieth-century America who is a performer, arranger, composer and producer. Like the Cumberland River that winds through downtown Nashville, Pursell’s career was like a crooked river, never on a straight path, and full of interesting bends and turns.