phoebe.jpgOur friendship began in 1953 at my soon to be husband’s (Jack Knox) graduation from The Citadel. She was a lovely young girl of sixteen, all smiles with a sweet innocence about her. Her name was Phoebe Brownell Knox. She was tall with beautiful dark hair and dark eyes that sparkled and a smile as big as the state of Tennessee. She was Jack’s baby sister, six years younger than he was. I did not know it then that she would become an important part of my life. After Jack and I married, she was so delighted to finally have a sister and I was happy to have a younger sister since I already had an older sister. Living with three brothers had been great for her, but she had always secretly yearned for a sister, so I became her sister in love. That was a name that we called each other from the very beginning of our relationship because it had been the love of her brother by both of us that had brought us together. She shared her teen-age woes and happiness with me and asked me for my advice. (What did I know? I was only twenty at the time, but I gave it freely as if I was a wise old woman.) I watched as she skirted off to dates and dances always with that same sweetness and innocence. I shared her laughter and her pain. She was a giving spirit and God had given her the gift of music like none other. She sang like an angel and could play the piano by note and by rote. The marvelous thing about it was that you only had to ask her once to play or sing something and she would jump up and start playing and singing. She wanted to share her gifts with all who wanted to hear. Being a little tone-deaf and having inherited my Momma’s tuneless voice, I was in complete awe. It was not unusual for the whole family to break into song when she began to play or her Mother would play and they would all sing. Her brothers adored her and put her high upon a pedestal. They also screened all of her dates. I remember being appalled when three brothers six feet tall and over, sprawled out their legs and bare feet and began to question one of her dates who was a shy teen-age boy as to his intentions. It was a wonder he didn’t head for the hills, but she was irresistible. She had that combination of sweet Southern charm and graciousness that all girls in the South strive for but few ever achieve.
That teen age girl blossomed into a beautiful woman. She struggled with weight (although I never recall her actually being fat) and other illnesses along the way, but her tenacity kept her fighting to be whatever she desired. She had been stricken with a mild case of polio when she was a child and it would cause major problems with her health throughout her life.
I recall when she got her admission letter to go to Vanderbilt. We rejoiced together. We squealed again when she received her bid to Delta Delta Delta. That freshman year brought many new boyfriends into her life and she once again made an impression on all that would cross her path. She would get a bid to sing in St Louis at the Municipal Opera and away she went for the first time off on her own, independent. I must admit, we were all a little concerned about her as she was still that naive, all trusting girl that she had always been. But Phoebe handled it well and was in her element and she thrived as we all knew that she would and made friends that lasted for a life time.
I remember how she rejoiced at the birth of our daughter. She loved being an Aunt as much as she loved being a sister. Many years later and many nieces and nephews later, she still loved being an Aunt and the nieces and nephews all adored her.
Phoebe would meet her husband through her incredible voice. She knew Bob Binkley for quite a while before the night she would (as the understudy) be called to perform in La Boheme. Bob was smitten with her voice and her beauty and took her home that night after an amazing performance. She had heard he had a reputation of a Casanova, but that night he was a perfect gentleman. Bob would years later tell me that he asked her if he could kiss her good night on that first date and she refused. He said that he never asked her again until they decided to get married. He didn’t want to mess things up. I was over whelmed when she asked me to be her Matron of Honor at their wedding. To say that they were perfect for each other, would be an understatement. Bob was just as entrenched in music as she was and music became their life together.
We rejoiced once more when they had their own little girl, Carolyn. She had curly hair and the voice of an angel. Bob was called into the Army and off they went. Somehow, Bob wrangled a singing and directing job while he was there. He often told stories about how Private Binkley didn’t feel like getting up early the next morning and he would call his Commanding Officer to tell him that he didn’t think he could come in that morning. He would tell Bob, just come in when you can. He sang and directed his way through his Army stint. The family was delighted when they came back to Nashville and built their home on Regent Drive, where they lived all the rest of their married life and made beautiful music together.
Bob continued to be involved in music after they got back to Nashville as did Phoebe. He taught and directed at McGavock High School and at several churches and Phoebe taught voice and put country music artists words to note since she could play by note and by rote. But that isn’t the real story that I want you to know. They loved their students like their children from other Moms and Dads. If a student didn’t have the money to pay for a lesson, she would find some way to barter with them. When Thanksgiving rolled around, any of them who were not able to go home came to their house where they played the piano, sang and of course ate to their heart’s content. It was a party made from love. And boy, did they both love parties. Christmas was exactly the same way and they did this for years on end. She had famous students like Kathy Mattea, Crystal Gale, Reese Witherspoon, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Erin Davie and Dawn Wells but she treated them all the same.  Each student was the most important student she had while they were in her studio.  She thought each of them was a star and that they could accomplish anything that they wanted to.  She became their life coach.
Their daughter, Carolyn, has also been blessed with the gift of music as well as their adopted son, Eddie who could play the piano as well as being a wonderful artist. The awesome thing about these special people was that they shared their incredible talent with everyone. What a gift  to actually share the fruits of the spirit. This family had a huge heart. A heart that takes in those with talent, those with none, those who are dubbed different, those who are lonely, those who have come to Nashville to become a star, those who have gotten lost in the Music Industry. There was always enough love on Regent Drive to go around to all who crossed their path. That is the real legacy that they leave to all of us. They loved each other and treated others as they would like to be treated.
Phoebe was one of the most glamorous women that I have ever met. She loved to shop and knew just the right way to put an outfit together for any occasion. She was almost six feet tall but that didn’t stop her from wearing high heels and she always stood straight as an arrow just as her Mother had taught her to. It was painful in later years to see her bent over yet she would stand as tall as she always had. It was also amusing to see her dressed to the nines, walking on her treadmill.  I am sure that Sears & Roebuck regretted the day that they sold them their replacement policy.  I can not tell you how many she and Bob wore completely out.  Her values and ethics were impeccable. Her faith was unshakeable. Her love was unconditional. That is what made her so very special.
I was so blessed to be able to share in their lives for so many years. My family was enriched by their love as were all the other nieces and nephews and their children and husbands and wives. Bob and Phoebe were always there for each of us.
I always knew when my husband was talking to his little sister on the phone. His voice became gentler, softer as if it was loud, he might somehow break her. I know how much each of those brothers adored her as well as her Daddy and Mother had. I know how much Bob loved her as he told me before he passed away. Now, she has gone from this earth to be with her heavenly Father, her Bob, her Mother and Daddy and brother, Jackie. She has no more pain just joy and singing. Those of us who are left behind were blessed that they both crossed our paths. None of us will ever look at a recliner without thinking of Bob in his bathrobe and yelling for Phoebe or hear a tenor sing. None of us will ever hear a beautiful soprano sing without thinking of Phoebe. As we watch others do good deeds for their fellow-man, or throw a party for a friend, or help someone in need, we will think of Phoebe. That is their legacy. I for one was ecstatic to have called her my sister in love and been able to share a small part of her life. To Carolyn, Eddie, Joe and Britt and all the nieces, nephews, and sister in-laws, I say to you, celebrate that you knew her and Bob for they were a package deal, soul mates. Your mourning will turn into dancing as the music of life plays on and on and on. As my sister in love and I always would say, there is a blessing in everything. You just have to look for it. Phoebe, it was a blessing to have shared many late night phone calls and your life with you. I will miss you terribly but your legacy will live on forever in your daughter and son and your students and all of us who had the privilege of knowing you. As for me, you were and always will be my sister in love. What beautiful music you made in this world. There is a symphony playing in heaven.


  1. I’m in tears after reading this touching tribute……very touching. Bob and Phoebe were wonderful people and they cherished their pets too. My condolences to all.


  2. Pingback: PHOEBE BINKLEY: MY SISTER IN LOVE | anticsbyannie

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