Aaron Brown loves being on the water. He was a professional skier in his younger days, a fearless competitor plus a master of entertainment. He skied in delightful venues like Callaway Gardens, as well as foreboding places where alligators wistfully stared from the bank.
He skied in multiple commercials for Channel 5 in Nashville, Tennessee, while building relationships that would serve him well later. He was involved when Channel 5 made the first episode of Hee Haw. CBS didn’t think the concept would work, but they agreed that if enough stations signed up they would carry the show. Aaron hit the road with the pilot and sold folks on its potential. He was there at the beginning for something that became a staple of family friendly TV.
It was almost 20 years ago when I first met Aaron at Center Hill Lake near Nashville. My wife, Jane, and I were visiting her brother, Rick, and his wife, Vicki. Rick introduced us to Aaron, a man we immediately found easy to like. He and Rick have taught two of our grandchildren to ski, and to do so with confidence. The best way to learn is to learn from the best. That goes for a lot more things than just water sports.
Aaron’s been dealing with Parkinson’s Disease for several years. That’s slowed him down a bit, but it hasn’t defined him. He doesn’t do the flips and tricks we’ve long enjoyed watching, but he’s the only 78-year old I know who still grabs a rope handle and glides swiftly across the water.
Aaron is affectionately referred to as the honorary Mayor of Center Hill Lake. It’s a beautiful place, having more than 22,000 acres of clear water from the Caney Fork River. Aaron’s had a house there since 1971, long before it became a popular spot for the homes and cabins now perched along the tree-lined mountain sides. It is, I suppose, not surprising that Aaron’s time on the water led to something more than skiing.
About thirty years ago Aaron and a friend, Jerry Michael, were taking an afternoon sabbatical on the lake. They had come to relax and work on a song for country singer George Strait. Jerry was quietly humming Rock-A-Bye Baby, a tune which unexpectedly sidetracked their conversation.
They began talking about the lyrics, “Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.” It seemed, they thought, an odd message for a mother to sing to her precious child.
Aaron and Jerry began working on some new songs for babies that expressed the tender love of a mother, songs that would blend pleasantly into the sweetest of dreams, soothing songs you could wrap snugly in a blanket and kiss goodnight.
They could have churned out some numbers and hastily put a respectable product on store shelves. But Aaron wanted to create something that would last. He envisioned lullabyes and orchestration of exceptional quality, music that was pleasing to hear as well as to sing along with.
It was a three-year process in which hundreds of possible songs were narrowed down to only nine. They were included in A Child’s Gift of Lullabyes, a warmly received collection that received a Grammy nomination.
Since then Aaron has produced five more sets in the Lullabye series. With two Grammys and eight nominations, his vision of gently flowing music for mothers and babies has been widely embraced. The cassettes evolved to CDs and now to streaming, a term that seems appropriate for an idea conceived on a river. Millions of fans around the world now listen to Lullabyes in six different languages.
I recently watched an interview recorded a few years back where Aaron said he wanted his life to matter. Moments later he added a bit more insight, a subtle message of wisdom that comes with age. He said, “The older you get the louder you hear the clock ticking.”
Aaron loves to ski, but he also finds great satisfaction in teaching others. He loves music, but his real joy comes through sharing it. I think his passion is not so much what he does, but why he does it. When I think of Aaron, it’s not his proverbial clock that I hear ticking. What I hear is the rhythmic beating of a kind heart, a steady tempo keeping perfect time with a lullabye on the lake. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you live a life that matters.