“In a city with a whole lot of amazing events, the T.J. Martell event is truly one of a kind,” says Charles Esten, star of the Nashville TV series. “The caliber of performers, the caliber of the honorees — the people they’re honoring — blows my mind every year.”
Esten, Chris Young, Ronnie Milsap and Eagles members Don Henley and Joe Walsh were among those performing Monday (Feb. 29) in Nashville to support the T.J. Martell Foundation, a national organization founded by members of the music industry.
The foundation’s mission is to fund innovative leukemia, cancer and AIDS research at flagship hospitals throughout the U. S., including the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville
Monday’s ceremony also honored Kenny Rogers, who won the Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award, and CMT president Brian Philips, who was presented the Frances Preston Outstanding Music Industry Achievement Award. Other honorees included Aubrey Harwell, co-founding partner of Neal and Harwell (Spirit of Nashville Award), Jennifer Pietenpol, director of the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center (Medical Research Advancement Award) and the FedEx Corporation (Outstanding Global Citizenship Award).
Rogers, who has announced his retirement tour, was keeping a sense of humor about his lifetime achievement honor.
“I think I’ve gotten more awards since I announced that I was quitting,” he joked to CMT Hot 20 Countdown on the red carpet. “I should have announced this earlier.”
Rogers is a longtime supporter of the T.J. Martell Foundation.
“It’s a wonderful award,” he said. “And especially, this family is doing some phenomenal things for cancer research, and I’m glad that I can be a part of that.”
This week’s event raised approximately $500,000, which brought the total to almost $3 million garnered locally for the cause since 2009.
“The T.J. Martell Foundation has been with me my whole career in the music business,” Philips said on the red carpet. “It’s a little bit surreal, especially when I’ve happened to have brought along a friend like Mr. Walsh. … The T.J. Martell Foundation is like the one good thing the music industry does to atone for all of its sins — and that’s why we love it.”
Noting, “That’s the first time you’ve ever called me Mr. Walsh,” the rock legend said he didn’t need Philips to convince him to come to Nashville for this week’s ceremony.
“He didn’t really ask,” Walsh said. “He just told me about the event … and that’s all I needed.”
“The truth is that we have some common history, we have some shared history and some common friends who make this night even more special,” Philips said. “I would especially mention the late Barbara Orbison.”
Orbison, wife of the late Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Roy Orbison, died of pancreatic cancer in 2011,
“The T.J. Martell Foundation, in a way, personifies all of that we wish we could have done for Barbara,” Philips said. “And so it’s about the Martell Foundation which is … a way of addressing cancer and the promise of a cure. And that’s why we are thrilled to be here.”
Walsh added that his own wife is a cancer survivor.
“Five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” he said. “And by the grace of God, she is cancer-free today, and I thought it was the end of the world. I truly did.
“And in her recovery, I have come across the cancer survivor community and joined it. And this is what we do: We show up.”