Laconic Bobby Bare loped away with the entertainer of the year trophy at the Reunion of Professional Entertainers' 18th annual awards banquet held Thursday (Oct. 20) at the Music Valley Event Center in Nashville. The celebration drew a crowd of nearly 500.
The royals of traditional country music were on hand for the event, which has always been more notable for its warm air of show business nostalgia than its awards splendor. Among the famous faces beaming as Bare accepted his acclaim were Crystal Gayle, Kitty Wells, Johnny Wright, Jean Shepard, Little Jimmy Dickens, the Browns, Tom T. Hall, Jeannie Seely, Jan Howard, Stu Phillips, Joe Stampley, Helen Cornelius, Jack Greene, Margo Smith, Peggy Sue, Bobby Wright, Tommy Cash, Doyle Holly and Becky Hobbs.
Eddie Stubbs, WSM-AM's scholarly disc jockey, served as master of ceremonies and resident historian, detailing background and cultural significance as each honoree came forward.
Referring to one of the other contenders for the top entertainer distinction, Bare said as he inspected his trophy, "Personally, I think Tom T. Hall should have gotten it. ... I've recorded more Tom T. Hall songs than Tom T. Hall has."
The evening's other winners were Door Knob Records owner Gene Kennedy (business award), disc jockey Tom Perryman (media award), Dallas Frazier (songwriter award) and Stu Basore (musician award). All except Perryman were present.
At the start of the evening, R.O.P.E. gave a special award to Shepard to celebrate her 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Backed by her Second Fiddles band, Shepard later closed the ceremonies with a show, during which she performed such favorites from her repertoire as "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," "Tennessee Waltz," "Dear John," "Secret Love," "Slippin' Away" and "Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar)."
Famed for her acid tongue, the 72-year-old Shepard introduced a medley by poking fun at herself, "Some of [these songs] I recorded, some I didn't," she said. "The ones you don't recognize would be the ones I recorded."
Stubbs praised Shepard for breaking through country music's gender barrier on her own. He noted that such early female country artists as Wilma Lee Cooper, Rose Maddox and Kitty Wells achieved their successes with the help of a husband or brother. "[Jean] was out there fighting it alone," he asserted.
Seely, Howard and Cornelius joined Shepard near the end of her set for some sharp but affectionate woman-to-woman banter and then backed her in singing a medley of hymns. Shepard capped the evening with a powerful rendition of "Peace in the Valley."
R.O.P.E. officers used the occasion to present two other honors originated by members -- the Nightingale Award (started by singer Mac Wiseman) and the Ernest Tubb Humanitarian Award (sponsored by David McCormick, head of the Ernest Tubb Record Shops chain). The former award was given to R.O.P.E. members Bill Littleton and John Denny for their extraordinary devotion in caring for their disabled wives. The Tubb prize went to Howard for her years of work on behalf of various military veterans' organizations. Howard's eldest son, Jimmy, was killed in the Vietnam War.