It was a refrain that reverberated often throughout the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville on Sunday evening (Feb. 19), as a cavalcade of musicians, actors and comedians gathered “reported for duty” to celebrate the life and career of the late Leslie Jordan, who died Oct. 24, 2022, at age 67.
Jordan was known for his acting roles including his Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace, as well as work in the American Horror Story series and most recently on the series Call Me Kat.
But it was the COVID-19 pandemic that brought Jordan greater acclaim, as his hilarious, witty Instagram videos went viral — filled with signature sayings like “Hello, fellow hunker downers!” and “Well, s—!” — providing both comedic relief and an emotional balm to during the uncertain, anxiety-ridden early days of the pandemic. In 2020, Jordan amassed nearly six million social media followers (though Jordan would adamantly call them friends, not “followers”), and the following year, he released his debut gospel album, Company’s Comin’, which saw him team with country artists including Dolly Parton, Katie Pruitt, Tanya Tucker, T.J. Osborne, Ashley McBryde and Charlie Worsham, as well as rock music icon, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
Many of the artists featured on Company’s Comin’ were on hand to perform and share memories of Jordan during the event, dubbed “Reportin’ For Duty: A Tribute to Leslie Jordan,” which packed the 4,000-seat Opry House Sunday evening.
The love in the room for Jordan was palpable, whether performers and speakers had known Jordan for years or only hours.
Comedian Leanne Morgan hosted the evening, telling the audience that Jordan’s biggest accomplishment was “being unapologetically himself.”
“I’m sure he is all smiles knowing he brought together the most eclectic group of people to ever grace the Opry stage,” Morgan added. The evening was filmed for an upcoming special on Opry Entertainment Group’s Circle Network.
Tanya Tucker launched the show with renditions of “Amazing Grace” and her 1972 signature hit “Delta Dawn.”
“He was a light in my life,” Tucker told the audience. “I’ll always remember his laughter.”
Performances followed from Travis Howard (a medley of “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”), McBryde (“Girl Goin’ Nowhere”), Maren Morris with Ryan Hurd (“What Would This World Do”), Fancy Haygood with John Osborne (“Go Rest High on That Mountain”), HARDY (“Give Heaven Some Hell”), ERNEST (“Songs We Used to Sing”), Brittney Spencer (“Sober and Skinny”), Ruby Amanfu (“How Beautiful You Are”), Katie Pruitt (“This Little Light of Mine”) and Jake Wesley Rogers, who turned in one of the evening’s strongest performances with a rendering of his song “Jacob From the Bible.”
Jelly Roll performed his No. 1 Country Airplay hit “Son of a Sinner,” and told the crowd, “[Jordan] gave love and he looked for love.”
Many of Jordan’s friends and television co-workers were also on hand, including Mayim Bialik, Margaret Cho, Max Greenfield, Cheyenne Jackson, Anthony Mason, Jim Parsons and Robyn Schall.
Following her solo performance, Pruitt teamed with Jackson for a song they created to pay tribute to Jordan’s well-known, “Well s—” saying. Lainey Wilson teamed with Lukas Nelson for a stirring rendition of the Parton/Kenny Rogers classic “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” with Wilson following with a rendition of her current top 10 Billboard Country Airplay hit “Heart Like a Truck.”
“I feel so honored to be here tonight,” Wilson said. “I never got to meet him, but he felt like one of those guys you just knew.”
Parton sent in a video tribute, in which she told Jordan, “Everybody loves you, but I doubt that many of them loved you more than I did.”
Worsham performed “Believe in Love,” and said of Jordan, “He only performed at the Opry a couple of times. But in that short time, he did what country music does at its best, which is to expand this circle to include everyone.”
The evening’s most powerful moments came as the evening celebrated not only Jordan’s light and laughter, but his journey as a gay man who was raised in the conservative South and went on to become a beloved celebrity, known not only for his humor, but for his love for everyone around him.
Brothers Osborne took the stage to perform “I’m Not For Everyone” (Jordan had appeared in the official video for the song), and followed with “Younger Me,” a song T.J. Osborne wrote after coming out as gay in 2021. He dedicated the evening’s performance to a gay couple in the audience who were celebrating 20 years together.
It was noted that as serious as Jordan was about his acting and comedy, he was dedicated to serving others — particularly those battling AIDS, as he took part in Project Angel Food in the 1990s, giving meals to those impacted by AIDS. It was also noted that Jordan also sat with those who were dying of AIDS, when their own families would not be present. The proceeds from the event also went to another cause close to Jordan’s heart, the EB Research Partnership, the largest global organization dedicated to funding research to treat and cure Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB).
Vedder closed the evening, teaming with Lukas Nelson for “Maybe It’s Time,” followed by the Pearl Jam classic “Just Breathe” and “The One Who Hideth Me,” Vedder’s collaboration with Jordan on the Company’s Comin’ album. For the final song, the evening’s entertainers gathered onstage for a rendition of “I Shall Be Released.”
It was comedian Schall who summed up the evening’s essence best, relaying to the crowd Jordan’s relentless support and encouragement, even when it came to making Instagram videos.
“We’d make a video, and he would call me and say, ‘Hey, Robyn, we’re gonna post this. What’s the best time to do it, so you shine the best?’ I think it’s so fitting [how] a tribute night to Leslie Jordan is just all of his friends, shining so bright.”
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