PERRY/Marty celebrated at Opry
Wednesday, December 12, 2012 12:00 AM
Last week, one of the great institutions of country music celebrated a Mississippi native in one of Music City's most historic venues. Marty Stuart of Philadelphia first appeared on stage at the Grand Ole Opry at age 13 with Lester Flatt in 1972, but it was twenty years ago he was inducted into Opry. Saturday night at the Ryman Auditorium, it was like old home night for Mississippians as Stuart and special guests celebrated two decades of Stuart with the Opry.
Charley Pride from Sledge, Mississippi sang his signature song "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" and toasted Stuart's career. Pride, whose career produced 39 number-one country hits, was only the second African American inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. He has been a guest on RFD-TV's "The Marty Stuart Show" - a weekly one-hour musical showcase hosted by Stuart.
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Chief Phyliss Anderson also saluted Stuart and thanked him for his friendship. Stuart told the Opry audience of the unique blending of black, white and Choctaw cultures in his hometown and how it impacted his music and life. Anderson said Stuart was a constant encouragement during her elections as Chief and was a prayer warrior for her and the Choctaw nation.
Stuart told the story of how he first saw country music star Connie Smith perform at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Neshoba County when he was twelve years old and got his picture with her. He was smitten and on the way home he told his mother that one day he would marry Connie Smith. Almost thirty years later that pledge came true. Marty performed "I Met My Baby At The Choctaw Fair" which he wrote for and dedicated to Connie Smith. (Smith also performed that night, as did her mentor and Opry standard "Whispering" Bill Anderson.)
Traditional Choctaw dancers joined Stuart and Chief Anderson on stage. After the performance, the Chief presented Stuart with a handmade Choctaw beaded amulet to which Stuart remarked, "I guess now I'm official." Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs said in his memory, it was the first performance by Native Americans on the Opry stage.
Stuart also featured singer-songwriter Brandy Clark for her first Opry performance as well as a band Stuart promoted early in their career, Old Crow Medicine Show.
The performances that night at the Mother Church of Country Music echoed Stuart's own eclectic music styles. He started his career with bluegrass and Lester Flatt, then toured with Johnny Cash, achieved mainstream country hits with his "hillbilly rock" style and now mixes all those eras with traditional sounds performing with his band, the Fabulous Superlatives.
Stuart's style mixes the sounds of Mississippi, the Birthplace of American music: Delta blues, rural gospel, rock & roll and hill country. His style was a good match for the Opry; other performers that night included Jimmy "Cajun" Newman from Big Mamou, Louisiana and bluegrass stars the Del McCoury Band and Ricky Skaggs with Kentucky Thunder.
Nashville is the world capital of country music. But it is Meridian, Mississippi (or rather Pine Springs near Meridian) just over thirty miles southeast of Stuart's birthplace that lays claim to the birth of country music through native son Jimmie Rodgers: "The Singing Brakeman" and father of country music.
Some claim Bluegrass - the progeny of country music, blues and jazz the migrated up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers into Northern Kentucky, and traditional and "old time" mountain music - was born on the Opry at the Ryman when in 1945 Earl Scruggs brought his five-sting banjo and three-finger roll on stage with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys for the first time. Stuart's Opry celebration took place on the 67th anniversary of that event.
More than a performer, Marty Stuart is an advocate for country music and an ambassador for Mississippi culture. His personal archive of music memorabilia "Sparkle & Twang" has been exhibited at the Tennessee State Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum and Mississippi State University's The Riley Center. It includes rare artifacts from Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Maybelle Carter and others. His passion for preserving and protecting the history of country music is reflected in his book of personal photographs "Country Music - The Masters" featuring the great performers in country music history. Stuart gets his love for the camera from his mother Hilda whose collection of photographs has recently been released in the book, "Choctaw Gardens."
Stuart is never bashful about his love for Mississippi. I've seen him perform twice this year, once in Wilkesboro, North Carolina at Merlefest - the largest Americana music festival east of the Mississippi; and once at the Opry last week. Both times he bragged on Mississippi and spoke like everyone in the world knows where Philadelphia, Mississippi - and played so everyone who hears him, would.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. He plays music very poorly, but listens to it very well. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.