Imagine the fuss if it had been a dollar.
Isaac Hayes, Ricky Skaggs , Ruby Wilson and Marty Stuart out-glittered the coin they came to honor Monday (Jan. 14) as musicians, songwriters, politicians and bureaucrats converged on the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to celebrate the issuance of the Tennessee commemorative quarter.
Overall, though, the proceedings were decidely more folk than pomp.
Authorized by Congress in 1997, the special quarters are issued in the order that the states joined the union. Admitted in 1796, Tennessee is the 16th of the 50 states to be accorded the honor. The design on the back of its quarter spotlights Tennessee’s musical heritage with engravings of a trumpet, guitar, fiddle and songbook. Shawn Stookey, a school teacher from Waverly, Tenn., created the winning design.
Clutching a mandolin he would not play until the finale, Skaggs opened the proceedings with an a cappella rendering of “Amazing Grace.”
Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Foundation, welcomed the standing-room-only crowd that jammed the museum’s Ford Theater and spoke of music’s social importance. “This music [represented on the quarter] formed what was sometimes the only bridge between diverse elements of the new country,” he said. He added that “the preservation of America’s blue-collar music” is the museum’s main goal.
Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist introduced singer, songwriter and actor Isaac Hayes, who brought the crowd to its feet with his soulful a cappella interpretation of “God Bless America.”
“God bless Isaac Hayes,” said the governor as the crowd stood and cheered. “We get so accustomed to the music,” Sundquist mused, “that we forget how special Tennessee is.” While giving Stookey credit for the design, Sundquist noted that “If you have any complaints about it, I was the one who made the decision.” Stookey won over approximately 1,000 other entrants.
Seated near Sundquist were United States Treasurer Rosario Marin and Director of the Mint Henrietta Holsman Fore. Turning to them, Sundquist quipped, “I know the people in the Treasury can’t have favorites, but I know that deep in their hearts this is their favorite quarter.”
Wayland Holyfield, chairman of the Nashville Songwriters Foundation and writer of such hits as “Can I Have This Dance” and “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” opened his remarks with the best joke of the morning: “Behind every successful songwriter,” he intoned, “there’s an astonished mother-in-law.” A long-time lobbyist for songwriter rights, Holyfield praised the quarter’s design, but observed wryly that, “Unfortunately, quarters are about all some people want to pay songwriters.”
Stuart said he hadn’t seen the quarter until his arrival at the presentation ceremonies. “We’re remodeling a house right now,” he said, looking at his wife, Connie Smith , seated nearby. “Anyone who doesn’t want his [souvenir] quarter, we’ll be happy to take it.”
Wise-cracking to Hayes, Stuart said, “I’ll just nominate you to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. ‘Shaft’ is a great country song.”
Ruby Wilson wowed the crowd with her version of “Tennessee Waltz,” turning the doleful, genteel lament into an angry woman’s tirade against her man-stealing best friend.
After extolling the commemorative quarters’ value as teaching tools, Treasurer Marin reminded the gathering that the coins also had some economy-boosting value. “Don’t just collect them,” she scolded, “use them.”
Tennessee’s poet laureate, Margaret Britton Vaughn, read her composition for the occasion, “Mr. Tennessee Music Man,” and drew a chuckle with the poem’s last line: “They’re singing our songs around the world/In different quarter times.”
Director Fore presented Gov. and Mrs. Sundquist with the original art work for the quarter, signed by U. S. Mint engraver Donna Weaver.
Skaggs and Stuart closed the program with the Carter Family chestnut “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Stuart played Mother Maybelle Carter’s guitar (which is on display at the Museum), and Skaggs played his own mandolin (which, Stuart, pointed out had “cost a lot of quarters.)” Seated behind them, Hayes and Wilson mouthed the words to the old song quietly until Stuart invited everyone in the room to sing along.