Demonstrating their lifelong love for country music, Grand Ole Opry stars Connie Smith and Marty Stuart have donated priceless memorabilia that represents the lives and music of the genre's most iconic artists to the Country Music Hall of Fame for preservation.
The husband-and-wife singers, both established recording artists long before their 1997 nuptials, presented the Nashville-based hall of fame with during a "gift of love" ceremony earlier this year.
From designer stage clothes and instruments, to priceless recordings, artifacts and custom-made accessories, the country-music memories given to the museum for public viewing were never publicly displayed until now, reported Jeremy Rush of the Nashville-based hall of fame.
Four-time Grammy recipient Stuart, a Mississippi native whose neo-traditionalist career began during his teens as a mandolin prodigy and player for Lester Flatt, has been a connoisseur of country-music memorabilia for nearly three decades. During that time, he's amassed a private collection of some 20,000-plus pieces that represent the careers of country legends such as Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and bluegrass-great Flatt.
"This all started in my bedroom at home, way before I left Mississippi," Stuart said, regarding the 2008 hall of fame donation. "Whether it was a Country Song Round-Up (magazine) or a photograph or a record collection, it was country music that drew my heart. In the middle of Mississippi, so many kinds of music came, but it was Nashville and country music that pulled my heart."
Among the many irreplaceable gifts donated by the couple were a satchel that Hank Sr. toted his songs in, as well as the suitcase and overcoat that were with him when the eternally 29-year-old died. The pair also gave the museum the dobro played by Roy Nichols on the opening measures of Haggard's classic recording of “Mama Tried,” along with Manuel-designed clothing and boots worn by Cash, and Flatt's now-famous, pawn shop-purchased 1950 Martin D-28 guitar, which is known as "the holy grail of bluegrass guitars."
Some of the Hank Sr. items the couple donated, in fact, are now on display as part of the museum's major exhibition, “Family Tradition: The Williams Legacy,” that opened in March 2008 for a nearly two-year run.
Regarding donations representing the couple's individual careers, Smith-who established her country career in the '60s and '70s with a string of hits and numerous Grammy, Music City News and Country Music Association nominations-gave the museum an acetate of her first RCA recording session that included the breakout single, “Once a Day,” which was the first-ever debut single by a female country artist to reach No. 1.
Written by Bill Anderson, who is credited with discovering Smith, the song held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard country charts for eight weeks in 1964 and stayed on the charts for 28 weeks total, propelling Smith to "overnight" country stardom. To date, it still claims the record for the most weeks spent at No. 1 by a female country artist.
According to the hall of fame's records, Smith-who also is a Grammy-nominated gospel singer-recorded the acetate at RCA Victor Studio B in Nashville on July 16, 1964. “Once a Day,” which was the third song recorded that day, and because of its tremendous success, Smith—from that time on—created a policy for every recording session, where she cuts the song she most believes in as the third track each time. Doing so, she has indicated, allows her voice to warm up, her musicians "to settle in" and "everybody to get in the groove."
Although Smith has remarked that she does not know where mementos from her early career are today, the Grand Ole Opry star said she and her husband were delighted to donate the items they've managed to accrue for historic preservation with the museum.
The star of the RFD cable channel’s “The Marty Stuart Show,” meanwhile, who scored his biggest commercial success in the '90s as an artist for MCA Records, donated an eye-popping list of personal artifacts, including a pink-paisley Fender Telecaster that he named "Connie Smith" because "it was pretty and had a twang to it" and a rhinestoned, embroidered stage costume known as "The Chandelier," because of its long rhinestone fringe. (Stuart wore the shirt for a 1992 Grammy performance with Travis Tritt, where the duo took home the evening's Best Country Vocal Collaboration trophy for “The Whiskey Ain't Workin'” single.)
"Marty has taught me so much about preserving the heritage of the people I have loved so dearly," Smith said at the donation event. "It really is a love gift from us. I personally know how much he loves some of these (donated items). I think a gift is when you give something you love and that you treasure, and Marty is the best at doing that. I am so proud to be here to do my part, and I am so proud to be here as his wife."
For more information, please contact the hall of fame, 222 Fifth Ave. S., by calling (615) 416-2001.