Marty Stuart Brings Country Music History Home

This appeared on Mississippi Public Broadcasting - July 7, 2010

Country music history began in Mississippi with a man named Jimmie Rodgers in Meridian. Now, another Mississippian, country music star, preservationist and historian Marty Stuart is bringing his flashy collection of country music history back to the place where it all started. MPB's Ron Brown has the story.

Renee White is curator at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville but she’s come to Meridian, Mississippi with a treasure chest of shiny clothes and priceless country music history artifacts. It’s part of the massive collection compiled by country singer, songwriter, showman, historian, and native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart.

“We take care of Marty’s treasures. We have a team of four people here but it took a lot of people to put this exhibit together.”

Memories are the what the exhibit is all about. It’s called Sparkle and Twang and it celebrates country music history in all it’s gliz and glory. It includes Johnny Cash's guitars, Hank Williams' report card and handwritten lyrics to some of his greatest songs, a railroad lantern once owned by Jimmie Rodgers, and Patsy Cline's makeup case and boots.

And then as a centerpiece, there are all those rhinestone studded stage outfits worn by the likes of Porter Wagoner and Webb Pierce.

The exhibit has toured the country. In addition to showing in Nashville, it’s been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles.

“There are a lot of things in this exhibit that we all know but that we forgot… or that we need to be reminded.”

Betty Lou Jones is the President of the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation. She says she wanted Sparkle and Twang to come to Meridian not only because Meridian is the famous home to Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, but because it’s more than a collection of country music memorabilia. It tells a story about country music and rural America.

“Marty Stuart invited me to come up to the rock and roll hall of fame in 2009 to see his exhibit. And I went and I was just so excited to see it. Then he invited me to come to California to Los Angeles to the opening of Sparkle and Twang at the Gene Autry museum of western heritage. And I was once again blown away. And I started thinking… this has to come to Meridian this has to come to Mississippi. I talked to Marty about it and we started making plans and what was a big dream at that time and everybody else thought I was crazy is now a reality and thousands of people are going to enjoy learning about Mississippi and Marty Stuart’s musical heritage.”

Linda Gent is in charge of displaying the costumes, but she’s been around the exhibit enough to know that it’s more than a fashion show. There’s a deeper story about gospel music in the area, Native American tribes, and race relations.

“You know it’s not so much about country music, it’s about the heritage here. We have traveled this around the United States and I want people to know that it’s so much more than country music, it’s about the heritage and it’s about them, and it’s about the rural areas and the small town people, cause I’m from a small town, and I want them to come and see it because it’s their history. And we’ve traveled it around the united states and we’ve brought it home to them.

Sparkle and Twang is on exhibit at the MSU Riley Center beginning this weekend through September 18th. For MPB News, I’m Ron Brown.

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