The theme, repeated often throughout Garth Brooks’ big night, was “One artist, one decade, one-hundred million,” a reference to a sales feat that has placed the country singer second only to The Beatles in career achievement at the cash register.
Since releasing his first, self-titled album on April 12, 1989, Brooks has sold more than 100 million copies of his works in the U.S. No other artist has sold as many in such a short period of time. Only The Beatles, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) figures, have sold more, 109.53 million albums. Elvis Presley, whose career began before 1958 when the RIAA started certifying record sales, is the closest solo artist to Brooks, with album sales of 77.78 million.
To celebrate his achievement, Brooks and Capitol Records threw a lavish party Thursday night (Oct. 26) for the many people who played some role in helping him achieve his phenomenal success. With music, personal testimonials and video montages, the audience at the Gaylord Entertainment Center recalled what a groundbreaking career Brooks has fashioned for himself, even as he heads into a self-imposed retirement which will allow him to spend more time with his three daughters, ages 8, 6 and 4.
A crowd of 1,150 sat down to dinner with Brooks. Home to hockey’s Nashville Predators, the arena was transformed into an elegant hall with candlelit tables and flowers including 12,000 roses, 4,000 gerbera daisies, 4,000 bells of Ireland and 8,000 lilies. During dinner, eight video screens projected still images of Brooks from throughout his career.
Filing in on a red carpet, with klieg lights raking the night sky, the audience included artists Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Steve Wariner, Trace Adkins, Joe Diffie, Mel McDaniel, Linda Davis, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, T. Graham Brown and Grand Ole Opry stars Jeanne Pruett, Billy Walker and Charley Pride. Brooks’ wife, Sandy, with whom he is considering a divorce, did not attend the dinner, and neither did his daughters or his father. His brothers — Jim, Jerry, Mike and Kelly — were on hand; his sister and former bass player, Betsy, was not.
Following a generous meal, Brooks’ friends and colleagues paid tribute to him with testimonials and awards. Newly appointed Capitol Nashville chief Mike Dungan — the fifth label president in Brooks’ tenure with the company — said, “There’s no question that Garth Brooks has left an impression, not just on country music, not just on music but on the world.”
Bill Ivey, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, brought a letter from President Bill Clinton. “I join your countless fans across America and around the world in congratulating you on this remarkable achievement and wishing you all the best in the years to come,” the letter said.
Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Foundation, said, “Your history is American history and your music is American music.”
Jim Foglesong, the ex-Capitol chief who signed Brooks to his first record deal, joked, “Garth, we gave you a $10,000 advance. We gave you top dollar. We believed.” Former Capitol marketing executive Joe Mansfield remembered telling one colleague, “Trust me on this, the No Fences album by Garth Brooks will be bigger than New Kids on the Block.” The album went on to become the first country album to sell over 10 million copies.
Yearwood, McBride and Wariner all recalled that knowing Brooks had given their careers major boosts. “If he believes in you, he’ll fight to the death for you,” Yearwood said, “and if he believes in his music, he’ll fight to the death for it. It’s what makes him incredibly successful as an artist. It’s what makes him an amazing performer and, most importantly, it’s what makes him a good friend.”
Speaker after speaker commented on Brooks’ unswerving loyalty, on his charitable giving, on his humility and on his kindness. “I don’t have a better friend in this business, or know a better person in this business,” Wariner said.
Pat Quigley, the marketing executive who came to Nashville to head Capitol from 1997-2000, and who presided over the final push to reach 100 million, said the figure “pales when compared to the difference your music has made in our lives.”
Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the RIAA, unveiled a massive, five-paneled wall of framed gold and platinum commemorative plaques representing the 100 million albums sold. She called Brooks to the stage and, to a standing ovation, he made his way through the crowd.
Brooks thanked God and a long list of people including his late mother, Colleen Carroll Brooks, who recorded for Capitol as a country singer, and his father. Among others he named were his wife, Sandy; his manager, Bob Doyle; his producer, Allen Reynolds; and Capitol and EMI executives past and present. At one point in the evening, Brooks pledged that he would never record for any other label.
Videotaped greetings came in from Sandra Bullock, John Travolta, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and his wife, Tracey, Whitney Houston, Dick Clark and members of the New York Mets, among others.
Following testimonials and presentations, the songwriters of Brooks’ early singles came to the stage to perform their songs with him. Kent Blazy, Kim Williams, Tony Arata, Larry Bastian, Pat Alger, Victoria Shaw, Stephanie Davis and Dewayne Blackwell entertained with songs such as “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Unanswered Prayers” and “The Dance.” Blackwell got laughs with a song titled “Beans,” a new version of “Friends in Low Places.”
Arata offered Brooks what the singer must have considered one of the highest compliments he received in a night full of accolades: “I met you as a songwriter at Douglas Corner a long time ago,” Arata said, “and you’re still one of us.”
After nearly five hours, Brooks wrapped up the evening shortly before midnight. “I thank you for this night,” he said. “I thank you for my life. My children are secure and safe because of you all and because of God, and my life, if it ended tonight, is complete. I love you. Thank you for tonight.”