The night my star twinkled on the Grand Ole Opry

Faye with Roy Acuff, King of the Hillbillies
Faye with the legendary Roy Acuff, King of the Hillbillies. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

MY HUSBAND, a professional photographer, connects to the world through his camera lens.

For many years, the subjects of his photography were celebrities in the arts, sports, and politics.

He traveled extensively. Yearning to accompany him, I played the role of excluded wife and mother.

Eagerly seizing an opportunity to accompany him to Nashville, Tennessee, I observed Gerald’s hectic schedule of updating illustrations for a new version of the book, The Grandest Day, a journey through Opryland USA, the home of American Country Music.

Faye with Bill Monroe: Photo: J Gerald Crawford
Faye with Bill Monroe: Photo: J Gerald Crawford

Donnie Beauchamp, official photographer, greeted us at the Opryland Hotel. I marveled at the beauty of the more than 8,000 tropical plants in the atrium, the 3.5 story waterfall, and a river that flowed through the lobby. That first night, we enjoyed the glitzy hotel, fine dining, and shopping.

The next morning, we took a short shuttle ride to the park which was adjacent to the hotel. Donnie became my personal escort.   Walking through the park and around the weekly crowd, he indicated that he would introduce, Roy Acuff, the namesake of the Wabash Cannonball, an Arrow steel corkscrew roller coaster. Vicariously, I experienced the thrills and adventures of the amusement park rides.

I encountered Ralph Emery, the Dean of Country Music Broadcaster and Whispering Bill Anderson on the set of Fandanago Music Trivia Show. The Whites, Sharon, Cheryl, and their father, Buck, performed several releases such as their soundtrack “Keep on the Sunnyside” which can be heard in one of my favorite movies “O Brother, Where Art Thou? “

That same afternoon, Gerald and I cruised, dined, and enjoyed Country Gospel with Donnie onboard the General Jackson Showboat on the Cumberland River.

Faye with Chet Atkins: Photo: Donnie Beauchamp
Faye with Chet Atkins: Photo: Donnie Beauchamp

Donnie familiarized me with the theater. The legendary Roy Acuff, fiddler, singer, music publisher, and concert promoter was the first artist that I met. Mr. Acuff told me that he was proud to be called the King of the Hillbillies. He showed off his talent by balancing his fiddle on his chin.

The other entertainers considered him as their grandfather. “ We watch him closely because his eyesight is deteriorating.” “We don’t want him to wander outside and get lost.”

His dressing room had proximity to the lounge and seemed to be the gathering place for this one happy family of talented people. I was welcomed with smiles, hugs, sandwiches, soft drinks, and a comfortable chair.

Jokes were cracked, stories told, songs sung with the laughter of happy spirits as they interacted with me. Minnie Pearl, American country comedian who appeared at the Grand Ole Opry for more than fifty years and on the television show Hee Haw, was luminous. Her presence made everyone smile as jokes naturally rolled off her tongue. “ I must not be a good neighbor because the family next door moves out every four years.” ( She lived next door to the Governor’s Mansion.) Ralph Emery referred to her as his Friday Night girlfriend and a genteel Southern Lady.

My heartfelt moment of the evening was when Cousin Minnie Pearl put her tiny hand in mine and said to me, “ I was not scheduled to be here tonight, but I just have to be on stage with Randy Travis.” As she left me watching from behind the curtain she said, “ I will introduce you as soon as our performance is over.”

Faye with Ricky Van Shelton. Photo: Donnie Beauchamp
Faye with Ricky Van Shelton. Photo: Donnie Beauchamp

Dressed in her widely recognized gingham dress, thick white tights, and straw hat with its dangling $1.98 price tag, she surprised Randy Travis with her loud, boisterous, homespun holler, “ How-Dee!” and joined him on stage. The audience roared at her coyness as she portrayed a man-chasing spinster from the small fictional town of Grinder’s Switch. With professionalism, his astonishment turned to charm as he serenaded her with “Forever and Ever, Amen.”

Leaving the stage, Minnie led Randy to me. Just as he put out his hand to take mine, his manager/ wife, Elizabeth Hatcher, grabbed his arm and pulled him out the door toward his tour bus. Disappointment. “Well, it was thrilling to almost meet you.”

Hey! Here I was backstage of the Grand Ole Opry, still behind the scenes, but rubbing elbows with famous people! Such a unique experience.

Sitting in front of her vanity surrounded by lights, beautiful Helen Cornelius chatted with me while her trusted cosmetologist created a public image. The duo Helen and Jim Ed Brown sang, “ I Don’t Want To Have To Marry You.”

I recollect the overwhelming euphoria as slow-talking ,sinewy baritone, music phenomenon, Entertainer of The Year, Ricky Van Shelton smiled, placed his arm around my shoulders and posed for a photograph. “From a Jack to a King” demanded an encore. Entering backstage, he said, “ Thanks to my loyal fans, the stage is where it all comes together.”

Fourteen Grammy Awards, nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year Awards winner, Chet Atkins, in the flesh! “Hi, I’m Chet.” “ Welcome to the Opry.” Meeting him was one of the greatest events of my life.

Bill Monroe, Mandolinist, singer, and songwriter who created a style of music that we know as Bluegrass, wore a stately white suit and hat. As we posed for a photograph, he cradled his Loar mandolin in his hands, like he did when he reached the microphone and played his original “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and sang in his high pitched voice.

Years later, I wondered if Donnie still had the picture of Minnie Pearl and me.

When I attempted to contact him, I learned that he had met with a fatal accident. July 5, 2014, while clearing some land, a tree fell on him.

Through the gift of Donnie Beauchamp’s photos , I can reminisce the nights that I twinkled among the stars.

 

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