Stuart Brings Country Legends, Patron Saint of the Arts to Ryman

This appeared on's website - May 17, 2000

History will be made tonight as legendary banjo master Earl Scruggs returns to the Ryman Auditorium to perform alongside Marty Stuart and special guests to launch a six-month art exhibit, "Thomas B. Allen: The Journey Of An American Illustrator," which featurers the work of renowned illustrator and Nashville native Thomas B. Allen. The kick-off concert, to benefit Nashville's Watkins Institute Of Art, marks the first time Scruggs has performed on the hallowed stage in more than a decade and, according to Stuart, the Allen collection is the first art exhibit ever placed on display at the Mother Church of country music.

Allen is perhaps best known to country fans for illustrating 17 album covers for Flatt & Scruggs in the 1950s and '60s as well as album covers for Johnny Cash and others. More recently, Allen designed the artwork and provided creative input to Stuart's critically acclaimed album, The Pilgrim.

Stuart, who played a major role in planning and orchestrating both the concert and the art exhibit, lists Tom Allen as one of his major influences. "When I was a kid, the first two records I ever owned was a Johnny Cash and a Flatt & Scruggs record. In those days we only had a black and white television at our house and I'd never seen Lester and Earl in anything except for black and white until I bought an album cover that (Tom Allen) had illustrated," Stuart says. "They looked simply like angels, they looked immortal in these white suits and these red ties and their white hats."

In a recent interview with, Marty Stuart and Thomas B. Allen expressed their excitement over the impending concert and art exhibit.

Stuart credits Allen with contributing to the mainstream acceptance of country music in the 1950s and '60s. "He was one of those people who moved country music out of the barnyard into a city culture. He took country music to town," Stuart laughs. " It's funny how one magazine article or one performance can change your life and country music's life was really changed in an irreversible way through an article he wrote and illustrated pertaining to country music for Esquire magazine in the late '50s."

Given Allen's contribution to the genre, it's no wonder the kick-off concert was organized to represent the true spirit of country music. "I thought, instead of having a night where we have whatever our top-ten grossing concert acts of country music are, lets go back to the heart and soul of country music," Stuart says. "So obviously Earl Scruggs had to be called. The Carter Family is coming down from the mountains of Virginia, Minister Evelyn Hubbard, a lady that Connie (Smith) and I came across in a black church down in the Mississippi Delta—she's never been on a stage before. Leroy Troy And The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band will be performing that evening for your listening pleasure. That's what this evening is about. It's to expose (Tom's) art out to the world. It's almost like a spiritual evening to me concerning music. It's not about whose record is doing what, it's about the heart and soul."

"I have to throw out that I used my influence to get my daughter, Hillary, on the program," Allen interjects. "She's going to come and sing "Wildwood Flower," which I just learned was written in 1860 and was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1928. That's an old favorite of mine."

Since embarking on his 3-plus year quest to see Thomas B. Allen's work on public display, Stuart has generated substantial interst in the project from the community. "The Governor has declared it Tom Allen Day," Stuart says. "The city has jumped behind this and has given us an 11x7-foot banner to go on the side of this building. The governor has named 5th Avenue, Avenue Of The Arts, so we have Art Synergy down here, we have TPAC (Tennessee Performing Arts Center), we have the Ryman, we have the new (Country Music) Hall Of Fame coming together down here, we have Ann Brown's place, but we have no hood ornament—no patron saint of the arts—until now. Our hometown guy comes home bringing us this incredible body of work. Tom Allen is our patron saint to the arts in Nashville, especially concerning music."

Written by Dustin Schrimpsher

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