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Our Special Tribute to

Sherrill Shaun Nielsen

….as reflected upon by Brenda Nielsen
Walk With Me

Sherrill NielsenFranklin D. Roosevelt was President, Casablanca premiered in the theaters and Bing Crosby released White Christmas, the top selling song from a film and above and beyond all this excitement arrived Charles Sherrill Whitaker. Sherrill was born to Charlie and Evelyn Whitaker on September 10, 1942. His mother and father went their separate ways when he was quite small and his grandparents, Christian (Papa) and Virgie (Mama) Nielsen raised him. He grew up knowing them as his parents and at a later age they adopted him and he officially became Charles Sherrill Nielsen. One of the highlights of Sherrill’s music career was during the 14 year period that he was living in Denmark; he had the opportunity to sing in the church where Papa Nielsen was baptized when he was six weeks old on the night that would have been Papa’s 100th birthday. That was quite a moving experience for Sherrill since Papa was his hero. Sherrill was raised in a very religious and structured environment which did not include any type of secular music. This strict upbringing did not allow him the luxury of listening to those artists that, later, would become a major influence in his musical career. He would have to sneak around to listen to musical influences such as John McCormick, Roy Orbison, Mario Lanza, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. Fortunately, he had a school teacher that saw the talent that Sherrill had and took him aside and told him “Don’t be afraid to aim for the highest peak, for it is there you will see all that is possible… all there is to hope for… dare to dream”. And dream, he did. He became known as the finest Irish tenor singer in music today.

Someone once asked Sherrill why he goes by Shaun, Sean, Charlie and any other name people tag him with. He said that when he was with the Elvis Presley Show he got tired of being paged as Miss Sherrill Nielsen. It kind of reminded him of "A Boy Named Sue"; thus came Shaun. Whatever the name, Sherrill and Brendawe will always remember his crystal clear, Irish tenor voice resonating through all the many songs he recorded and sang. He recorded on RCA and MCA as Sean Neal, Shaun Nielsen and Sherrill Nielsen. Shaun’s first record to reach Billboards country chart was Lights of LA. By the age of 15 he had already cut his first LP record “A Name I Highly Treasure”. While attending Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville TN, he was drafted into the service. He served in the Air Force where he sang with the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command Band in Omaha NE. With his military service behind him he was ready to launch his career. He joined Butterflythe Songfellows Quartet in California in 1960 and in 1961, because of Dad Speer’s health problems; the Speer’s asked him to join their group. The Speers remembered his beautiful voice from hearing him sing at their home church in Montgomery AL. This was the stepping stone of his legendary 50 plus year career in Southern Gospel Music. Ben and Brock Speer had done backup instrumental work on some of Elvis’ recording sessions. In 1963, he was in a concert in Harrisburg PA, singing with the Speer’s, when he met and fell in love with his wife, Brenda Hall. They moved to Atlanta GA, where he became a member of Jake Hess and the Imperials. The Imperials later moved to Nashville TN and this is where Sherrill met Elvis. This meeting took place during the cutting of the “How Great Thou Art” album at the RCA Studio. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Sherrill then moved to California where he teamed up with the Songfellows again and the Brush Arbor Jubilee. In 1967, Brenda and SherRee’ set Sherrill free to pursue his music career. They always referred to him as their cherished butterfly. And fly away, he did. He moved to Louisiana and joined the Plainsmen who were working with Governor Jimmy Davis, then on to Wichita KS where he put together his own group – Sean Nielsen and the Good Ole Boys.

He changed directions again and joined Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet. He later found out that Elvis was a big fan of the Statesmen. The Statesmen was performing in Long Beach CA when Elvis went back stage and requested that Sherrill sing “The Impossible Dream” for him. After the performance, Elvis presented Sherrill with a TCB (taking care of business) necklace and told him “you are my favorite singer” (this was later confirmed by Felton Jarvis, Elvis’ producer). Sherrill knew that this song had special meaning for Elvis…he was born in poverty but dared to dream of brighter days and bigger things and yes, he became one of the greatest entertainers in the business. Sherrill then moved to Nashville TN where he formed the famous trio that Elvis hired and renamed – VOICE. Sherrill was ordained in the American Episcopal Church, Diocese of Seattle, WA in 1983 by Bishop Jay Bennett.

Elvis' Palm Beach HomeThis was another magical page in Sherrill’s career. He was singing backup vocal behind the world’s biggest music icon. When he joined the Elvis Presley Show little did he know that Elvis would repeatedly call him out to sing solo’s and share the spot light with Elvis. So whether he was with Elvis in his LA home, or Palm Springs or Graceland, they spent time singing, listening to records from all music genres. Very few people know the love Elvis had for operatic music. They would listen for hours to Mario Lanza, Enrico Caruso and Grace Moore. He named his home “Graceland” in memory of Grace Moore. They were sitting around the piano in Palm Springs when Elvis asked them what they thought his best selling record was. EveryoneElvis and Sherrill guessed “Hound Dog” or “Don’t Be Cruel”, but Elvis surprised everyone by saying it was an old Italian song by Erinco Caruso – “It’s Now or Never”. He said that his mother used to play it for him on an old wind up victrola. Sherrill sat down at the piano and sang the Italian version – O Solo Mio’ and from that moment on, it became a regular part of their live concerts. Sherrill remembers the time that Elvis called him in Nashville and asked him how soon he could get to Chicago. Elvis sent a private jet to pick him up and when he arrived he found out that Elvis wanted him to sing at a policeman’s funeral. Elvis was in dress blues, sitting with members of the Chicago police force and Sherrill was requested to sing "Danny Boy" and "In the Sweet By and By" for Elvis’ Irish policeman friend Officer Kenney.

Elvis and SherrillSherrill should be remembered as one of the most kind, humble and loving person in our world. He was always trying to help another person who was struggling in life. He gave a lot of up-and-coming artists the start they needed to begin their careers. He worked with Brenda with her non-profit endeavors – Share A Dream Foundation, which worked closely with the homeless and abused children. This was a crucial part of who they were and are…always helping others.

When the last song is sung, the last musical note has been played we are left with memories...precious memories that no one can take from us. Having lost my only child, my parents and now my beloved husband, I look to God for strength Rev. 21:4 says “Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Heaven will be the perfection we have always longed for. It will be filled with health, vigor, virility, knowledge, happiness, worship, love and perfection. So to my loved ones who have gone before me, the final heartbeat for them was not the mysterious conclusion to a meaningless existence. It was rather, the grand beginning to a life that will never end. To my loved ones, I give my love; you can only guess what they gave to me in joy and happiness. But now I recognize that it is time that I must travel on alone. I thank God that even when we are not worthy of His blessings, He still loves us and gives us peace, happiness and joy.

My cherished butterfly flew back to me and then God called him home.


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