by George Larrimore, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Philip Joyner Jr., a teacher, musician and mentor to many in Memphis, died on August 28. He was 60.
Described by one friend as “the greatest unknown musician in the world,” Mr. Joyner for decades entertained at the piano in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel.
During a recent celebration of his life at Mount Olive Cathedral Mr. Philip Joyner was described as a man who lived with commitment, curiosity and passion.
“Happiness,” Mr. Joyner was known to say, “is having someone to love, someone to love you back and something to do.”
Mr. Joyner grew up in Memphis and attended Hillcrest High School, where he excelled in track, football and music. After college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga he began teaching music.
Mr. Joyner’s widow, Joanne, told about how they met, a story that nearly brought her to tears with both laughter and emotion.
It was 1987 and Joanne was trying to book a high school band to perform at St. Peters Nursing Home, where she worked. Meaning to call Westwood High, she accidentally dialed Westside High by mistake, and got Philip, who was just starting at the school. Philip agreed to come by and talk about it. Magic happened when Mr. Joyner strolled down the hall.
“It was like he had a halo over his head,” she said.
It was love at first sight or something like it. At the end of the conversation, she invited Philip to her office to discuss ”more details” but really to see if he could take a hint.
“Finally,” she said, “Philip said ‘Maybe we should go out.’”
More than 30 years of marriage followed, along with five children; Jessica, Jasper, Jalisa, Jonathon and Philip III.
Mr. Joyner spent 39 years as a teacher. One of his last assignments was at Overton High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where he set out to turn the school’s jazz band into one of the best in the country.
He taught his own children music as well, starting at age three, on a small violin he made himself. At the celebration, the Joyner children, on violin and cello, performed ‘When The Saints Go Marching In.’
His death surprised a lot of people, many of whom didn’t even know that he had been battling cancer.
Everyone who knew Philip Joyner well says that he did things his way. Fittingly, for the song that played over a photo montage, Philip chose Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’
“He never ever stopped living,” Joanne says. “He kept going until he couldn’t do it any more. And never once complained. Not one time.”