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Marty Stuart, Connie Smith donate memorabilia to Country Music Hall of Fame

Thursday, February 14, 2008 – Marty Stuart and Connie Smith donated items of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Lester Flatt to the Country Music Hall of Fame Wednesday.

A renowned collector, Stuart's also donated several items from his own career. Smith, who is married to Stuart, also presented several artifacts of her own, including a stage outfit, a guitar and a studio acetate of her signature hit, "Once a Day," which she received the day she recorded it in 1964.

"Marty Stuart and Connie Smith are here to celebrate love - their love for each other, their love for country music and all of its cherished traditions, their love for country music fans," said Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in his welcoming remarks. "They come bearing gifts for the museum's collection. I can't tell you how meaningful and how important this is."

During the ceremony, Stuart and Smith performed with their bands, then shared the stage with performers Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Eddie Stubbs.

The audience included Country Music Hall of Fame members Harold Bradley, Ralph Emery, Jim Foglesong, Charlie Louvin, Jo Walker-Meador and E. W. "Bud" Wendell.

David Conrad, a member of the museum's Board of Officers and Trustees, welcomed Stuart and Smith's contribution with personal testimony about Stuart's dedication to preserving and cataloging country music history. "I believe most of what we have in life is not really ours, they're only gifts that pass through our hands, and they're only with us for a little while," Conrad said. "I think Connie and Marty knew that all along, and I think that's why they chose to bring these treasures home."

Stuart had requested the ceremony take place on Feb. 13 as a "Valentine of love" to the museum. Stuart's extensive donations included a suit and overcoat from Cash, an acoustic guitar from Flatt and a suitcase from Williams that Williams had with him in the Cadillac on the night he died. Stuart also donated a Dobro that once belonged to Roy Nichols, a longtime member of Merle Haggard and the Strangers. Stuart picked up the Dobro and played the opening notes of "Mama Tried" on the instrument, the same one Nichols used for Haggard's recording of the song.

Stuart spoke of the only two jobs he ever held, as a musician in the bands of Flatt and Cash. His donations carried a personal element for him, since they included historic items that once belonged to those two Country Music Hall of Fame members. "You have to go with the heart," Stuart said.

He also addressed his passion for collecting artifacts that represent the history and cultural heritage of country music. "The costumes, the guitars, the set lists, the manuscripts that the Country Music Hall of Fame couldn't get to out in the hinterlands, I simply bought and stored," he said. "I still see it as American culture - and our culture, as country musicians."

Stuart made special note of Flatt's 1950 Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, which the late bluegrass legend played for 25 years, beginning in 1956. The "Lester" guitar, as it was called, was played on many classic Flatt & Scruggs recordings, in live performances and on their syndicated TV show.

Stuart played mandolin in Flatt's band as a teenager and, for a while, lived in the Flatt family home when he first moved to Nashville. Flatt loaned Stuart the guitar in 1972. After Flatt's death, Stuart purchased it from Flatt's daughter, Brenda. Stuart described it as "the guitar of bluegrass music."

"Lester Flatt's guitar, without question, is a hallmark of our own civilization," Young said. The guitar will be featured in a special spotlight exhibit at the museum. After that, Young said, "It will find a home in our Precious Jewel exhibit, alongside Mother Maybelle's guitar and Bill Monroe's mandolin."

Stuart invited Scruggs to be present, he said, because the bluegrass icon will forever be linked with Flatt as leaders of one of the most important duos in American musical history. "It is an honor to live on the same planet as you," he told Scruggs, who was seated in the front row.

Stuart also thanked Gill and Skaggs for joining him for the special occasion, noting that the three of them grew up on the bluegrass circuit and shared that training and those memories. "They are simply two of the people I admired the most, and still do - as men, as modern masters," Stuart said. "They are timeless artists."

Smith, before describing the items she donated, noted that her husband had taught her the importance of preserving history. She told of the first time Stuart took her to the warehouse where he keeps his collection of country music artifacts. He slipped a coat around her arms, and Smith recalled how she got chills when he told her it once belonged to Williams.

"Country music is such a part of my heart, and I'm blessed to be a part of country music's family," Smith said. "I personally know how much Marty loves some of these things. I think a gift is really when you give something you love and you treasure. Marty is the best at doing that. I'm so proud to be here for my part and so proud to be here as his wife."

All of the invited musical guests performed during the ceremony. Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives opened with "Country Boy Rock & Roll," featuring Stuart and guitarist Kenny Vaughan trading electric lead guitar licks. Smith showed off her beautiful, expressive voice on "You Got Me (Right Where You Want Me)" and "Once a Day." Gill, Skaggs and Stuart offered a three-mandolin version of "John Hardy," each showing off their virtuosity on the instrument. The three were then joined by Scruggs and WSM air personality Eddie Stubbs for a harmony-rich take on the hymn "Who Will Sing for Me?," a Flatt & Scruggs favorite. Stuart and Smith came together in a duet of "Your Tender Loving Care," a Buck Owens song that the couple danced to on their wedding day. The event ended with all of the performers singing the Carter Family's "Storms Are on the Ocean."

At the ceremony's end, Young concluded, "Let's be grateful to Marty Stuart and Connie Smith for their stewardship of this essential part of our American history - our songs of home."

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