Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, Darius Rucker Salute Cancer Research Supporters

Nashville Honors Banquet Hosted by Charles "Chip" Esten of Nashville

Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker performed, but the T.J. Martell Foundation’s sixth annual honors gala put the focus on those who have spent their lives outside the spotlight. The evening raised more than $500,000 for the nonprofit organization.

“I hope all of you get to do what you love for as long as I have,” talent manager Dale Morris told the crowd of 500 celebrants Monday evening (March 10) at Nashville’s Omni Hotel as he accepted the Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award.

Morris made his name in the music business managing such acts as Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich and Jake Owen.

Four other award winners — cancer researcher Dr. Scott Hiebert, real estate developer Mark Bloom, trucking industry pioneer and breast cancer survivor Beth Dortch Franklin and record company executive Mike Dungan — all expressed a similar sense of fulfillment in the works they had done on their way to receiving their honors.

Morris’ remarks capped a ceremony brightened with acoustic performances by McGraw, Crow, Rucker, Jake Owen and the Blue Sky Riders.

Held in the Omni Hotel’s Broadway Ballroom, the event was sponsored by the T. J. Martell Foundation, a music industry support group that funds cancer, leukemia and AIDS research at medical centers across America.

Guests mingled at a cocktail party before the awards banquet began and surveyed the objects arrayed for a silent auction. Celebrities trooped along the adjacent red carpet.

For the second year in a row, Charles “Chip” Esten, who plays Deacon on the ABC-TV series Nashville, served as host.

Among the celebrities in the audience were Luke Bryan, Chris Young, Big & Rich and Alabama’s Randy Owen.

Esten told the crowd he had a personal stake in the evening, noting his 14-year-old daughter Addie was once afflicted with leukemia. With a grin, he added, “She’s a Nashvillian now. She’s happy, and she’s cancer free.” The crowd cheered.

The announcement of each honoree was preceded by a musical performance. Crow was the first to take the spotlight.

“I love a banquet room,” she announced. “The sound of salad forks.”

Accompanied by a guitarist, she toasted Dr. Hiebert by singing “Homecoming Queen.”

Hiebert, associate director for basic research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the advances made toward cancer cures in the past five years have been remarkable and are progressing at an almost unimaginable speed.

Hiebert was presented the Medical Research Advancement Award.

“This song is by special request,” McGraw said when he sat down to sing “My Little Girl” for Bloom. Bloom’s daughter and son appeared in a video tribute to him.

Recalling that it was almost 25 years ago when he arrived in Nashville, he said he met Bloom through his booking agent.

That meeting led to McGraw investing with Bloom in the Nashville Kats arena football team, a venture somewhat less successful than other Bloom undertakings such as the downtown Hilton Hotel, the restored Union Station hotel and the Adelicia luxury condominiums.

Bloom was given the Spirit of Nashville Award.

Esten told the crowd that when Franklin was driving to Nashville from Memphis, back when she was still in college, she loved listening to the music of Kenny Loggins.

That being the case, he called to the stage the Blue Sky Riders, a trio made up of Loggins, Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr. They honored Franklin by singing “Dream.”

An avid and generous supporter of cancer research, Franklin was presented the Lifetime Humanitarian Award.

Darius Rucker came to the stage to pay tribute to Dungan, a music industry veteran who’s now chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, for which Rucker records.

Rucker sang “History in the Making.”

Tim DuBois, who gave Dungan his first job in country music, told the crowd that Dungan was initially reluctant to come to Nashville. But, he added, in the 10 years they worked together at Arista Records, the Nashville division sold more than 10 million albums.

Dungan moved from Arista to head Capitol Nashville, where he had a long run of successes. When Universal bought Capitol in 2012, Dungan was promoted to head all the Universal country labels.

Known for his sense of humor and congenial management style, Dungan accepted the Frances Preston Lifetime Music Industry Achievement Award with suitable humility.

“This is so bizarre for me,” he said as he examined his award. “This is a community of friends. … I was not born here, but I got here as quick as I could.”

He thanked his grandfather for getting him a job in the record store where he was spending all his extra money.

He said DuBois “showed me you can win — and you can do it with kindness.”

But Dungan reserved his highest praise for what he called “the little angels,” the people he encounters on the street and in airports who serve to remind him what it is to be human and compassionate.

Jake Owen toasted Morris by singing one of his manager’s favorite Conway Twitty tunes, “Crazy in Love.”

Then Chesney came to the stage.

“Dale Morris did more than touch my life,” he said. “He altered it in a great way. … He taught me how to love boats, sunsets and red wine.”

During a tribute video, John Rich of Big & Rich described Morris as “a handshake manager,” one who simply works on his word and not by contracts, an arrangement that enables either party to walk away if not satisfied with the other’s performance.

When Morris came forward to accept his award, he gestured toward the stadium-filling Chesney and joked, “I can’t afford him, but I sure do love him.”

View photos from the T.J. Martell Foundation gala.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.