Rev. Evelyn Windham Hubbard of the Commerce Boulevard Christian Church in Robinsonville sings with Marty Stuart here last week.
Rev. Evelyn Windham Hubbard of the Commerce Boulevard Christian Church in Robinsonville sings with Marty Stuart here last week.

Another big name in the world of museums was announced as a fundraiser for Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music during a gathering here Thursday

Lois Riggins Ezzell, who formerly served as the executive director of the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville for 36 years, has been hired to coordinate fundraising, according to Marty Stuart, the country music legend and Neshoba County native.

Ezzell said she couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work with Stuart at the Congress of Country Music during a reception at Stuart’s warehouse downtown on Center Avenue.

“This collection is probably parallel with the collection at the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Ezzell said. “I think it (the museum) can become a special sort of star on a hill.”

Ezzell said she felt that the museum had so many stories to tell based upon the artifacts Stuart has collected. 

“Country music tells the stories all of us are familiar with,” she said noting that country songs cover just about every facet of life, from joy to sorrow and loss and everything in between.

Ezzell gave a moving speech where she told the audience that she fell in love long ago with being able to tell stories of physical historical items.

Ezzell said she was excited also to work with the citizens of Philadelphia, noting that the community was very “enlivened” by the proposed project.

Museum Executive Director Carolyn Tate introduced Ezzell to an audience of over 50 people, some of whom were from other museums around the state.  
Tate said that Ezzell’s appointment corresponds with the museum’s continued efforts to identify possible revenue sources for the project. Tate said that she is anticipating meetings with all of the major universities in the state to develop the museum’s educational outreach.

Ezzell served as the executive director of the Tennessee State Museum during the term of seven different governors from either major party. Ezzell said one of the things she learned in her long tenure was how to gauge the political winds blowing in either direction.

Community Development Partnership President David Vowell said that Ezzell was being hired on a pure commission basis, incentivizing her to utilize her network of contacts for fundraising efforts.

The introduction meeting also included a performance by Stuart and a very special guest.

During the meeting, Stuart said that his vision for the Congress of Country Music really came together on New Year’s Eve 1999. 

Stuart said that from the time he began playing with the Sullivan Family in 1972 until 1999, he had basically been going non-stop. He said in 1999 he was in a kind of life reevaluation phase and happened to be playing a show at one of the casinos in Tunica. He said he told his wife Connie Smith that he didn’t want to spend the new year in a casino hotel, so the couple drove out into the countryside and discovered the Commerce Boulevard Christian Church in Robinsonville, Mississippi. 

On New Year's Eve, Stuart said the church was rocking and when Stuart entered the church he said he had a feeling as if though God were touching his soul and giving him his mission to build the Congress of Country Music. He said the power of the church, specifically its pastor Evelyn Windum Hubbard, was overwhelming and Stuart got emotional Thursday recounting the event.

Hubbard and Stuart then excited the crowd with a special performance and then the audience members sang “Happy Birthday” to Hubbard as Sept. 6 is her birthday.

In April 2017, when the center was announced, Stuart called the site selection a dream come true.

The center will encompass nearly an entire city block around the historic Ellis Theater. The project that does not have a price tag includes the renovation of the Ellis and construction of a new building to house the museum and community meeting space.

Stuart hopes the center will be open in three to four years.

A market and financial analysis by the Virginia firm Owens Economics, LLC showed that the museum would attract between 28,000 and 49,000 visitors annually, officials said last year.

The Marty Stuart center will showcase Stuart’s vast collection of country music memorabilia, including some belonging to such stars as Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. Stuart’s extensive photography collection, as well as wife Connie’s memorabilia, will also be included.

Last year officials from the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles were in Philadelphia to borrow pieces from the collection for its upcoming Marty Stuart exhibit which opened in May 2017.

The state awarded $2 million in bond monies for the renovation of the old Coca-Cola building for the center’s warehouse. Items from the collection will be changed periodically from the warehouse to the center.