As members of Taylor's fan club-the infamous "Soul Patrol" we all like to think of ourselves as one of the elite group of fans that support Taylor no matter what happens in his career and follow him wherever his career takes him. Yet our
BEST efforts fall way short of the woman that was, is and always will be Taylor's Biggest fan-his grandmother-affectionately known as "Grandma Joni" who recently passed away.
In his autobiography "Heart Full of Soul" Taylor affectionately mentions Grandma Joni in everything from her business acumen, her lack of domestic skills (twist ties in the green bean casserole and "Put ketchup on it") to her unflinching support and encouragement of him in his career from the earliest days until now. He recounts the famous story of
the flying ping pong balls launched over Birmingham that got blown across the highway and the many holiday dinners that didn't QUITE measure up. But no matter what happened in his life, Grandma Joni was ALWAYS there for Taylor.
I was fortunate to meet her one time-and just from that ONE meeting I saw what Taylor was describing about her. It was 2008 and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was giving Taylor a corner of their display area because of his accomplishments in the music industry..Since it was American Idol related, Ruben Studdard and Bo Bice were in the display as well-but it was TAYLOR's corner of the display that brought the fans to fill up that small room in Tuscumbia, Alabama that Saturday AM. Grandma Joni and one of Taylor's nieces represented the family for the ceremony. I had
arrived early for the ceremony with a friend and was touring the rest of the museum. As we emerged from the tour bus donated by the legendary group Alabama Grandma Joni came walking by. I recognized her immediately and she saw we were Soul Patrol because we were wearing clothing that ID'ed us as that. The greeting on both sides was instant, the bonding was immediate and the family tie became firmly planted as both Grandma Joni and I smiled and shared funny or heartwarming stories about Taylor. What I immediately noticed was the fact that even though I was a complete stranger to her, Grandma Joni KNEW I was a fan of her grandson (otherwise why would I be in the museum that morning!!!) and proceeded to tell me story after story of Taylor's frustrating babysitting efforts with his younger nieces. We both laughed, and she didn't mind posing for a pic or two. I sensed then that it was a very special moment-
meeting the woman who was then, and is today, and always will be, Taylor Hicks' biggest fan. Godspeed, Grandma Joni!!! We'll pick up the torch you lit and love Taylor no matter what happens. While we cannot replace you in Taylor's heart, we will do our best to carry on your legacy of love and support. Until we meet again in heaven, RIP Grandma Joni.