Marty Stuart Shares Love With Gifts To Hall Of Fame

This appeared in The Tennessean - February 14, 2008

On Wednesday, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Director Kyle Young looked out at the audience assembled at the Hall's Ford Theater and sought to explain the gathering's significance.

"Today is Valentine's Day," he said, knowing full well that it wasn't.

But husband-and-wife performers Marty Stuart and Connie Smith chose Wednesday to present the Hall with their "gifts of love," including historically important guitars and memorabilia from a personal collection that Hall trustee David Conrad likened to a "hillbilly Home Depot."

And so Valentine's was Young's hook. Whatever the day, it was a red letter one for the Hall.

"This is THE guitar for bluegrass music," Stuart said, holding the instrument on which Lester Flatt picked out thousands of his famous "G run" licks.

Flatt employed a teenaged Stuart in his Nashville Grass band, and Stuart purchased the 1950 Martin D-28 from Flatt's daughter.

The guitar, which comes with a brown leather strap embossed with a horseshoe design and the name "Lester," now belongs to the Hall. It will be featured in a Flatt-centric exhibit, and Young said it will later be displayed along with Bill Monroe's mandolin and Mother Maybelle Carter's guitar in a "Precious Jewels" display.

Flatt's guitar is but one of the items Stuart and Smith donated to the Hall.

Other major pieces include: a briefcase in which Hank Williams used to store his songs; a 1930 Dobro on which Roy Nichols played the famed introduction to Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"; Smith's 1968 Gibson "Dove" guitar; Stuart's 1972 pink paisley Fender Telecaster electric guitar; and a briefcase, suit and overcoat that belonged to Johnny Cash.

Musicians and industry dignitaries showed up on Wednesday to cheer the gifts and to hear performances from Stuart and Smith in conjunction with Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and WSM air personality Eddie Stubbs.

Scruggs, the celebrated "banjo man," played acoustic guitar during the ceremony.

"It is an honor to live on the same planet as you," Stuart said to Scruggs before the music began.

Stuart has been collecting memorabilia and instruments for decades, and his collection has grown to more than 20,000 pieces. The Flatt guitar was among his favorite possessions, and he said he had promised Flatt's daughter, Brenda, that he would pass the Martin along at the proper time and place.

A triple-mandolin bout with Stuart and fellow Grand Ole Opry members Skaggs and Gill was one of Wednesday morning's highlights.

Calling Skaggs and Gill to the stage, Stuart noted that he and the other two were lucky to have arrived in town at a time when they could "learn at the feet of the old masters." Then, three picks struck 24 strings, and lessons learned rang as music.

By Peter Cooper

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