Summerlee Staten and Brenden Rowe didn’t start things off by getting to know one another over a casual drink the way most blind-daters do. Instead, their first meeting involved a formal affair – Brenden’s annual Air Force Ball – proving to be a wise strategy on Brenden’s part: “I remember thinking that he was very handsome in his uniform,” says Summerlee. The two hit it off instantly, and spent the entire night talking like old friends. “I felt as though I’d known him forever,” she adds.
And when the time was right to propose, Brenden whisked Summerlee away to Napa, California, where he arranged for the pilot of a 1920’s Red Baron biplane to fly them over the Pacific. Soaring through the sky, he asked Summerlee to marry him, producing the ring from a Limoges box, which he bought so she could give it a special place in her precious porcelain collection.
They chose to marry in Nashville where Summerlee was born and had lived for five years. “Nashville has always felt like home to me, so it just made sense for me to get married there.” Their church ceremony was followed by a reception at the city’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. At Cheekwood, Summerlee and Brenden had the run of the entire property, giving them the flexibility to stage each part of their celebration in a different area of the venue and allowing them the outdoor space to elegantly accommodate 350 guests.
A singer and songwriter, Summerlee hails from a musical family and wanted to honor her artistic upbringing by filling the ceremony with personal touches. Her mother, a classical pianist and opera singer, played Summerlee’s favorite piece, Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau,” as the bridesmaids began the processional. Her mother also sang the “Lord’s Prayer,” and her brother B.J. Staten, a professional golfer on the PGA tour, also sang a song for the bride and groom. Although Summerlee’s father is also a gifted musician, he had the honor of escorting his daughter down the aisle to the accompaniment of bagpipes, a special request from the groom. The ceremony was conducted in French as well as in English to accommodate Brenden’s family members, many of whom traveled from Nice to be there. It was a stirring and romantic experience for all, especially the bride. “The moment the church doors opened and I saw Brenden for the first time, I felt such joy and peace in knowing that I was marrying the right man.”
Once at the reception, guests entered the museum’s mansion to find a portrait of the bride done in watercolors – a surprise gift for Brenden from his new wife. They continued on through an arbor of candlelit wisteria to a great lawn where a massive clear tent housed the dinner. It was hung with hundreds of votive candles creating its own star-studded sky. The tables were dressed in white, light blue, and navy, and each place was set with a menu card accented by the wedding’s official symbol: a navy fleur de lys. Not only did the motif honor Brenden’s French heritage, the fleur de lys is the official symbol of his Air Force squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. The symbol marked the couple’s entire invitation suite and was given to guests in the form of sugar cookies as they left for the evening. Summerlee even wore a diamond fleur de lys necklace given to her as a gift by her matron of honor.
After the guests enjoyed dinner, they moved onto yet another area of Cheekwood, the Botanical Hall where a 16-piece orchestra kept the dance floor jam-packed all night long (Summerlee even added bright yellow tulips to the blue and white décor to match the festive atmosphere). The men enjoyed a cigar and port tent set up in the nearby gardens while everyone partook in the selection of artisanal cheeses and French pastries that were Summerlee and Brenden’s version of a groom’s cake. Their traditional wedding cake was also very personalized and covered in a design that incorporated fleur de lys with the lyrics of an original song Summerlee penned for her groom.
And when the celebration came to an end in Nashville, the newlyweds were en route to another reception being held in their honor in the south of France. The couple enjoyed several days in Aix en Provence and Eze before heading off to explore Morocco.