First Star Unveiled At MSU Riley Center

This appeared in The Meridian Star - February 16, 2009

Very soon people will see stars as they walk the streets of downtown Meridian.

The first of many star-shaped plaques to be placed in the sidewalks of downtown Meridian was unveiled Sunday at the MSU Riley Center. The star-plaques – designated as the Walk of Fame – will honor Mississippi artists who have made outstanding national and worldwide contributions to the arts.

"We hope this is just the first in many steps that's going to lead to not only the establishment of this Walk of Fame, but also the Hall of Fame for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center," said Tommy Dulaney, MAEC president.

Noting that Mississippi produces more artistic genius per capita than any state, Mayor John Robert Smith thanked the MAEC for locating the Walk of Fame in downtown Meridian.

"Last April 25, Fred Cannon, a board member, asked the board, and they agreed, to create a Walk of Fame to put Mississippi's wealth of artistic genius in the forefront," Smith said. "I want to thank the board for the absolutely right decision to put that Walk of Fame in downtown Meridian – beginning here at the MSU Riley Center and winding its way through the streets of downtown Meridian."

The first Mississippi artist to be recognized on the city's up and coming most famous sidewalk is Meridian's own Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music.

"Much groundwork has been laid over the years," Smith said. "But this, today, is the first tangible manifestation of the dream that is the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center – to create one place where the genius of Mississippi artists can be honored and celebrated."

On hand for the unveiling was Mississippi country music artist Marty Stuart, who, according to former MAEC president Paul Ott, has earned the title of Favorite Son of Country Music.

Before unveiling the star, Stuart, a big Rodgers fan, talked about the famed country music man's contributions.

"Every note of country music that is played, sung, written, thought about throughout this universe today, yesterday and tomorrow all goes back to one man, Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music," Stuart said.

"All of us who play and sing country music from our hearts stand in his shadow, and those who have gone before us – like Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb – acknowledge him," he said. " ... There's a whole new generation of artists who are coming on who have yet to discover Jimmie Rodgers. But if they live long enough, his music will totally make sense in their lives. He is America's music, in my opinion."

Before the unveiling of the star, Jimmie Rodgers impersonator Britt Gulley performed "The California Blues" and was joined by Stuart in singing the Rodgers' song.

Following the dedication, Stuart performed in concert with fellow country music artist Kathy Mattea at the MSU Riley Center.

By Ida Brown

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