Marty Stuart, Connie Smith Perform at Country Tonite Theater

This appeared in The Mountain Press - August 31, 2005

For three decades, Marty Stuart has been one of the most well-known and respected names in country music.

He doesn't plan on giving up that title any time soon.

"It's a good thing I'm still performing. I'm not good at anything else," said Stuart while laughing during a telephone interview Monday. "They asked Willie Nelson if he was going to retire, and he said, 'From what, golf or guitar?'"

Stuart, along with his wife and another legendary name in country music, Connie Smith, will perform in concert Friday at the Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge.

Playing music on the road since the age of 12, Stuart first played mandolin with gospel group The Sullivans, and then toured with Lester Flatt, leaving behind his birthplace of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Stuart also had a stint playing in Johnny Cash's band, followed by a several successful solo albums, spreading his genre of "hillbilly rock."

This week, Stuart released his first gospel album, entitled Soul's Gospel.

"It's a Mississippi Delta-style album I've been trying to make for 30 years." said Stuart. "I love gospel music. I started playing it before country - I was playing in tent revivals and gospel meetings. It set the tone for the next 30 years. I finally had the right combination of people and circumstances, and it all came together."

Stuart has come to Pigeon Forge in some capacity almost every year.

"I knew Pigeon Forge before there was a Dollywood," said Stuart. "Some of the purest Tennesseans come from that region, and it reconnects me with roots of Tennessee and the Appalachian people.

"I have a deep heart for mountain people," Stuart continued. "Their way of life is a beacon of inspiration for these days and times. I connect with a piece of lost America when I come to the mountains."

Stuart said that his proudest moment as a musician was when he and legendary singer Pops Staples received a medal of arts at the state capitol in Jackson, Mississippi.

"We stood before the Senate that morning, and Pops, who was close to 80, said he had never dreamed that he would stand in that place and stand in front of dignitaries of color," said Stuart. "That moment transcended show business into peace and healing, and helped me realize the essentials that God gives us.

Stuart definitely is not starving for things to do. Besides his new album, he is releasing two more in the next few months. In October, he will release Badlands, dealing with a hostile Native American situation in South Dakota, and in January he will release a live album recorded from the Grand Ole Opry's Ryman Auditorium. He's also working on some television specials that will be taped at the University of Mississippi.

Stuart said that he loves working with his wife, but it rare that they work together.

"We have two separate styles, but when they do merge, it's a wonderful thing," said Stuart. "At the end of the show, I get to go home with her," he laughed.

Smith, who has been performing for approximately 40 years, has been described as not an individual to do things halfway.

Having recorded more than 50 albums, Smith has accomplished a lot in her career, all while raising five children.

Out of all Smith's albums, six of them were in the top 10 on the charts. She has had 48 Billboard chart singles, five top 10 singles and several Grammy nominations. She is reportedly the first female artist to have her first single go No. 1 with "Once a Day." The record stood for many years until Trisha Yearwood came on the scene.

Smith recorded again after her children grew up. Warner Bros. Records signed her, despite a youth movement in country music.

Sevier County's own Dolly Parton has been quoted as saying, "There's really only three female singers in the world - Streisand, and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending."

By J. J. Kindred

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