Eddy Arnold can still pack ‘em in.
Friends, family and fans filled the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Thursday (March 6) to honor Arnold and to show their appreciation for his contribution of a massive collection of personal show business memorabilia to the institution.
Given by Arnold and his wife, Sally, the collection is the largest trove of material about a single artist ever donated to the museum. It includes 5,000 recorded radio shows, 2,000 photographs, 2,000 cans of film from Arnold’s syndicated television show, 1,000 pieces of sheet music, 32 file cabinet drawers of clippings, awards, gold records and lovingly handcrafted gifts from fans.
Producer and songwriter “Cowboy” Jack Clement led a six-piece band through a series of Arnold’s most-loved hits, with Suzy Bogguss , Bobby Bare , Shawn Camp, Jim Lauderdale and Billy Burnette providing the vocals. Clement sang “I’ll Hold You in My Heart”; Bogguss, “Anytime” and Arnold’s signature, “Cattle Call”; Camp, “You Don’t Know Me” (of which Arnold was a co-writer); Bare, “I Really Don’t Want to Know”; Lauderdale, “Make the World Go Away”; and Burnette, “Tips of My Fingers.”
Among the famous faces in the audience were Country Music Hall of Famers Brenda Lee , Bill Carlisle and the Jordanaires ‘ Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker; Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown ; Nashville mayor Bill Purcell; legendary guitarist Harold Bradley; Garth Brooks ‘ producer, Allen Reynolds; and songwriters Dickey Lee, Paul Craft and Sandy Mason.
Bare called Arnold “the greatest singer who ever walked,” and Lauderdale said, “You must be the nicest superstar there is.” Purcell told the crowd, “Several of you have said you would want very much to sing like Eddy Arnold. … But, really, I would just like to be able to smile like Eddy Arnold. When Eddy Arnold smiles, you know the world is going to be all right.”
For a musical finale, the performers and the audience sang “When I Dream,” an early Clement recording written by Mason that is among Arnold’s favorite songs. Connie Smith and Roy Clark , who were scheduled to sing, were unable to attend.
Museum scholar John Rumble spoke of the size and importance of Arnold’s collection, noting that it virtually spans the entire period of country music. Rumble gave the history behind several artifacts on display for the ceremony, including Arnold’s entertainer of the year award from 1967 (the first one conferred by the Country Music Association) and a tiny wagon made by a fan who was moved when he heard Arnold say he had always wanted one as a young boy but that his family couldn’t afford it.
“I’m very honored, and I’m very sentimental,” Arnold said near the end of the celebration. “I have to talk about my age and tell you why we’ve given up all this stuff. I’m now 84, and I know it will be in good hands. And I’m truly giving it. I’m not selling it. I hope those that follow me will think just a little bit. I know about some of the people that [have given] to the Hall of Fame and then later the family comes and starts picking things out and taking them home. My stuff will stay here. I don’t have to sell it. I’ve got enough to live on.”
An exhibit of Arnold material will go on display in June, accompanied by a series of programs on the singer’s life and career.