Bill Carlisle, the Grand Ole Opry’s elder statesman at age 91, was named Entertainer of the Year by the Reunion of Professional Entertainers (ROPE) Thursday night (Oct. 5). WSM-AM (650), the radio home of the Opry, celebrated the 75th anniversary of its inaugural broadcast with a remote broadcast, hosted by announcer Eddie Stubbs, from the ROPE awards dinner at the Vanderbilt Stadium Club. The remote was part of special radio programming to honor the station’s historic role in country music.
“I’ve been a little under the weather, and I almost didn’t come tonight. I’m sure glad I did,” Carlisle said. “Every year there’s a company that sends me a beautiful calendar . . . well, this year they’re sending it to me one month at a time!”
“Jumping” Bill Carlisle, so known because of his trademark move — jumping into the air — began his career with brother Cliff, and their song “Rainbow at Midnight” is a sentimental favorite. Together, they wrote some of country’s most enduring songs including “Rattlesnake Daddy,” “Shanghai Rooster” and “I Believe I’m Entitled to You.” Bill Carlisle later made his mark as a country comedian with his band, Bill and the Carlisles, performing novelty songs “Too Old to Cut the Mustard,” “Knothole,” “Is Zat You Myrtle” and “Poke Salad Annie,” among others. Following stints with Knoxville’s WNOX, the WSB Barn Dance in Atlanta and the Louisiana Hayride, Carlisle joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1953, where he continues to perform.
Other Golden ROPE Award recipients include Johnny Russell, Songwriter; Bill Mack, Media Person; Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Musician; and Leslie Elliott, Business Person. ROPE awards recognize both country music legends and behind-the-scenes industry professionals such as songwriters, session players, media personalities and booking agents.
Jett Williams, Hank Williams’ daughter, presented the prestigious Ernest Tubb Humanitarian Award to Billy Deaton, a 30-year veteran of the music industry who thanked the late Faron Young, a new CMA Hall of Fame inductee, for his success. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Faron Young,” Deaton acknowledged.
The Don Pierce Golden Eagle Award went to W.D. “D” Kilpatrick, retired record company and booking agency executive, co-founder of the Country Music Association and manager of the Grand Ole Opry from 1956 to 1959.
Robbins’ Musician Award followed his victory Wednesday night (Oct. 4) as the Country Music Association’s Musician of the Year. He received his first CMA nod in 1976 and is the only pianist ever to win the prestigious honor. A session veteran, Robbins succeeded Floyd Cramer as the most in-demand pianist in Nashville from the mid-1960s to the 1980s. Robbins has tickled the ivories for artists such as Charlie Rich, Crystal Gayle, George Jones and Roy Orbison. More recently he appeared on Alan Jackson’s album Under the Influence.
Robbins said his much-emulated style borrowed from other legendary piano greats. “I stole a little bit from Cramer, and a little bit from Ray Charles, and others, and it just kind of evolved into my own sound,” he explained. Session keyboardist Willie Rainsford, who presented the award, called Robbins his hero. Nerve damage from chemotherapy forced Robbins to retire this year.
Opry member Russell is a prolific tunesmith whose song “Act Naturally” (co-written with Voni Morrison) was a No. 1 hit for Buck Owens in 1963 and in 1965 was recorded by the Beatles. Classics Russell has written and recorded himself include “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue-Ribbon Beer,” “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor” and “Catfish John.” George Strait’s version of “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” was a No. 1 hit in 1984. In April, Russell released Actin’ Naturally, an album of some of his classic songs recorded in bluegrass settings.
“I got to say, when I got here and looked at the program, I didn’t even know I was nominated!” Russell said, as his peers buckled with laughter.
Bill Mack, a songwriter, singer and producer, began his career in country broadcasting in the late 1940s. His show, the Midnight Cowboy Trucking Network — named for his radio moniker, the “Midnight Cowboy” — is heard nationally. In 1982, he was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in Nashville. “Blue,” written by Mack, launched LeAnn Rimes’ career when she recorded it in 1996. Another of his compositions, “Drinking Champagne,” charted for Cal Smith in 1968 and for George Strait in 1990. Stubbs, who announced Mack’s Media Award, pointed out that Mack’s early Texas rockabilly recordings are considered to be some of the finest examples of the genre.
Elliott was the first woman in the history of the Golden ROPE Awards to receive the Business Person honor. She worked 18 years for defunct independent label Step One Records, once home to acts such as Gene Watson and Ray Price.