Country Music Stars Show-And-Tell

This appeared in the Des Moines Register - April 1993

Third graders at Park Avenue Elementary School were seeing stars Friday when entertainers Marty Stuart and Waylon Jennings made separate visits en route to their Farm Aid appearances in Ames. Both were there primarily as a "family" favor to Jessi Smith, daughter of Charlene and John L. Smith of Des Moines. John Smith, a country music historian, has published discographies on Jennings and Johnny Cash and is gathering material for a Stuart publication.

Stuart had heads turning as he entered the school in a chatty mood, introducing himself to students in the hallway and creating a few puzzled looks from some of the staff, who were unaware of his visit.

The idea for the visit came when Jessi, 8, brought pictures of her family with the entertainers as part of third-grade teacher Debra Cross' "star of the week" program. Each student was given a chance to discuss something special to them, said Cross. After Jessi's talk, Cross thought it would be nice if Stuart would visit the class.

A letter was sent to the entertainer, along with the "top 10 reasons why Marty Stuart should visit Park Avenue Elementary." The list concluded with "Garth Brooks turned us down," and Stuart was hooked. "Garth WHO?" he said when reminded of the list. "Oh yeah, he's the one that did 'Achy Breaky Heart.' "

Stuart felt right at home during a question-and-answer session peppered with laughter. The students' curiosity ranged from "How come you don't wear a hat?" ("Because my hair's too big") to "Do you ever mess up?" ("All the time, but it's OK to mess up. If it happened to you, just get up and try again.")

When asked about his own school days, the singer recalled how he was always getting in trouble, "acting goofy" in the third grade for constantly practicing his autograph instead of studying. But by age 13, he was playing mandolin for the late Lester Flatt and later became a member of Johnny Cash's band. Now that the high successful "No Hats Tour" with fellow artist Travis Tritt is history, Stuart is back to concentrating on his own career, and it is paying dividends in the form of his first CD to go gold, "This One's Gonna Hurt You."

The lively banter from one of country music's hottest heartthrobs ended when he had the students stand and sing "America The Beautiful." When they reached the chorus, he shouted, "Now SING!" and leaned back with a big grin as he listened to the students.

Shortly after Stuart left, Waylon Jennings showed up to escort Jessi as part of Grandparents Day at the school. Teachers, students and grandparents were noticeably stunned when the entertainer arrived with a stuffed monkey for Jessi.

Jessi lost both her paternal grandparents over the winter and when Jennings was told of the annual event, he quickly volunteered to attend alongside her maternal grandparents.

Sitting in the classroom, he filled out the grandparent questionnaire along with everyone else, helped other students with answers and even signed many of the questionnaires.

By Terry Manley

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