Eddy Arnold will tell anybody and everybody that he doesn’t like to brag, but then again, he doesn’t have to. The artifacts and acquaintances that come with his six-decade career speak for themselves. Arnold’s musical history is on display now at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in an exhibit titled I’ll Hold You in My Heart — The Eddy Arnold Exhibit.
“I’ve given everything I have to this place,” Arnold said at a recent appearance at the Hall of Fame.
Indeed he has. John Rumble, senior historian and curator of the exhibit, says, “Mr. Arnold had saved materials documenting his career from the late 1930s to present. He knows the care we take in preserving our collection of recordings, photographs, costumes, instruments, business documents and other items. So he felt comfortable giving his materials to an institution he knows and trusts.”
The display contains mementos from Arnold’s personal, public and even political life. Visitors can see pictures of Arnold and his family, rare performance shots taken by one-time manager Colonel Tom Parker (before Parker managed Elvis Presley), an award from Song Hits Magazine for best folksinger in 1947 and a Gibson SJ-200 acoustic with his name inlaid in the fret board.
Thank-you letters addressed to Arnold are stacked high, too. One from LeAnn Rimes thanks Arnold for his duet with her on “Cattle Call” in 1995. Presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and George Bush, wrote to Arnold as well. And also hanging proudly in the display is perhaps the biggest congratulatory gesture of all — the National Medal of Arts awarded to him by Bill Clinton in 2000.
Let’s not forget Arnold’s time on the small screen. Hand-written musical arrangements and scripts from Kraft Music Hall, which he hosted for five years starting in 1967, are on display, as well as a screen with clips of the legendary entertainer doing what he does best.
Arnold started his career with Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys, who were regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. This exposure led Arnold to his own radio program on WSM and then to chart success in the late 1940s.
Arnold was among the first country artists to cross over to the pop charts successfully. At a time when one singer would record a song as a country song and another would record the same as a pop song, Arnold recorded songs that straddled the line between the two genres. A prime example is his 1965 hit, “Make the World Go Away.”
“In all honesty, I must tell you that song brought me back,” Arnold said. “I got to thinking, well, I’ve made records with every kind of instrument and I need to sing a love song like I’ve always done, and I need to put violins with it. Not fiddles, but violins. As quick as I did, I had a hit.”
Rumble adds, “Mr. Arnold advanced country music’s acceptance by pop audiences through his rich baritone voice, good looks, easy but confident stage presence and pop musical arrangements.”
Just as Arnold had an impact on country music, Rumble hopes this exhibit does, too.
“The exhibit is significant because it documents what is arguably the greatest country music career of the 20th century and, perhaps, in the entire history of country music. It also highlights Mr. Arnold’s role in collecting and preserving materials relating to his own career and the careers of other performers. It showcases the role of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as the premier repository for country music materials and serves as an example for others in the country music industry. We hope that it will inspire others to preserve their materials and donate them to the museum.”
I’ll Hold You in My Heart — The Eddy Arnold Exhibit runs through December 2003.