Marty Stuart and Connie Smith presented a “love gift” to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on Wednesday (Feb. 13), one day before Valentine’s Day. Their donations included guitars, stage wear and other notable pieces from their private collection.
“This all started in my bedroom at home, way before I left Mississippi,” Stuart said. “Whether it was a Country Song Round-Up [magazine] or a photograph or a record collection, it was country music that drew my heart. In the middle of Mississippi, so many kinds of music came, but it was Nashville and country music that pulled my heart.”
Additional gifts included the Dobro played by Roy Nichols on the opening measures of Merle Haggard’s classic recording of “Mama Tried,” along with boots and a Manuel jacket worn by Johnny Cash and the famous 1950 Martin D-28 guitar belonging to bluegrass giant Lester Flatt. Stuart also contributed the satchel Hank Williams used to carry his songs, as well as the suitcase and overcoat Williams was traveling with on the night he died.
Telling a story about how she was discovered, Smith gave the museum an acetate of her first RCA recording session, in which she recorded her breakout single, “Once a Day.” During the event, Stuart and Smith each performed with their own bands, then joined for a duet version of Buck Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care,” a song they listened to on their wedding night.
Guests at the museum’s Ford Theater included Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs and radio personality Eddie Stubbs, all of whom sang with Stuart on stage. In a running joke, Gill declared that he wanted to see the warehouse where Stuart stores his stuff.
“I’ll show you the warehouse if you bring Kanye West,” Stuart replied, referencing Gill’s Grammy joke earlier in the week. Not one to miss a beat, Gill countered, “I’ll bring Kanye West if you bring Con-nay Smith.”
The 90-minute ceremony was often lighthearted, as Smith and Stuart emphasized their love for each other and the special place country music holds in their hearts.
“Country music is such a part of my heart, and I am so blessed to be a part of country music’s family,” said Smith. “I am so proud to have a part in the legacy of country music. I have always loved its people.” Saying that she has no idea what happened to mementos from her early career, she told the story about when Stuart slipped Hank Williams’ jacket on her as a surprise.
“Marty has taught me so much about preserving the heritage of the people I have loved so dearly,” she said. “It really is a love gift from us. I personally know how much he loves some of these things. I think a gift is when you give something you love and that you treasure, and Marty is the best at doing that. I am so proud to be here to do my part, and I am so proud to be here as his wife.”
In addition to Gill and Scruggs, other Country Music Hall of Fame members in attendance included Harold Bradley, Ralph Emery, Jim Foglesong, Charlie Louvin, Jo Walker-Meador and E.W. “Bud” Wendell. Other notable guests included music publisher David Conrad, the designer Manuel and family members of Stuart, Smith, Flatt and Scruggs.