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Hall of Fame inductees gather for award show

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bea Rhodes-Hitt dropped out of West Plains' Rhodes family band in the 1940s to raise a family. But, at 92, she can still play a mean fiddle. Rhodes-Hitt was one of five people inducted into the George D. Hay Foundation Hall of Fame at a special awards show at Mammoth Spring on Sept. 19.
For a small organization in the Ozarks run by volunteers, the George D. Hay Music Foundation has earned a lot of respect in the country music industry.

When the Foundation held its 14th Annual Awards Show, Sunday, Sept. 19, Hall of Fame inductees traveled from all over the U.S. to participate in the show and receive their awards.

George D. Hay is the man credited with starting the Grand Ole Opry. Hay's inspiration for the Saturday night musical was a 1919 trip to Mammoth Spring, where he was taken to a county "hoedown." Hay was inspired by the artistry of simple country folk making music and dancing the night away.

"George D. Hay is a well known name in country music," said Cathie Bair, one of the organizers of this year's awards show. "Those we choose for the Hall of Fame are truly honored to be connected with the creator of the Grand Ole Opry."

This year's inductees included the legendary Ernest Tubb and one of the steel guitar players in Tubb's Texas Troubadours, Lynn Owsley.

"Lynn Owsley has been out on the road with Merle Haggard and wasn't going to get to come." Bair said. "But, when Merle had to cancel a few shows because of illness, Lynn flew from Maryland to Memphis and rented a car to get here."

Another inductee, Arkansas native Craig Morris, Loretta Lynn's longtime piano player, had a similar story. He left the east coast, where Lynn is on her 50th anniversary tour, and flew to Memphis, where his family met him and rushed to get him to Mammoth Spring in time for the awards show.

Bea Rhodes-Hitt only had to travel from her home in northwest Arkansas to get her Hall of Fame Medallion. But Bea is 91-years-old. The trip certainly did not slow her down. She had enough energy to play a few fiddle tunes for the large, appreciative crowd.

One of the early pioneers of country music and the first Grand Ole Opry star, Uncle Dave Macon, also entered the Hall of Fame and his family, which traveled from Nashville, was on the front row as Macon was honored.

Macon's great grandson, John Doubler, joined Macon's great-great-grandson, Robyn Young on stage to perform one of Macon's songs.

Also in the crowd was Robert Macon, Uncle Dave's grandson.

"Robert works at the County Music Hall of Fame," said Bob Ross, the founder and president of the George D. Hay Foundation. "He certainly knows the importance of Hay to county music and was tickled to death that his grandfather was being honored."

Texas singer Dottie Jack joined Lynn Owsley for a musical tribute to Ernest Tubb. She happened to be performing in Missouri and agreed to make a detour to join in the festivities at the George D. Hay Music Hall of Fame and Theater.

Ross says many Hall of Fame inductees have traveled the extra mile over the years to attend the awards show. Many who could not attend have sent a video or audio recording offering thanks for the honor.

In 2001, singer-songwriter Leonna Williams was unable to make the awards ceremony. But, last month, she showed her pride as a Hall of Fame member by playing a show during Mammoth Spring's Solemn Old Judge Day. Williams accepted no payment for her appearance, asking that money generated by the show go to the foundation.

"It's that name, George D. Hay," said Ross. "People in country music respect that man and we are the only organization in the country authorized by his family to help keep his memory alive."

The foundation also honored three local musicians with "Hoedown" awards, Gale Foster, Marvin Judd, and Jerry Bone.

"Each year, we honor the artistic talent of local musicians because they carry on the tradition of the local musicians who inspired George D. Hay back in 1919," said Bair.

In addition to its regular shows, the George D. Hay Music Hall has another special event on its calendar in November.

On Nov. 20, there will be a special show to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry, that little radio show George D. Hay started after a memorable trip to Mammoth Spring.

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