Stuart Unveils Road Marker, Opens Exhibit At Museum

This appeared in The Neshoba Democrat - July 15, 2009

An elaborate marker on the road in the Arlington community which bears the name of county music star Marty Stuart was unveiled Thursday. About 200 people endured the sweltering temperatures to attend the ceremony in the parking lot of a Baptist church. Attendees were treated to a performance by Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, performing a few numbers, including "Old Hat," one of his late grandfather's favorite songs; and "Have a Little Talk With Jesus."

Later in the day, Stuart and his wife, Connie Smith, officially opened an exhibit in his honor at the county museum, which features audio and video of him describing his early days in Neshoba County.

Thursday night, they performed shows at the Choctaw Indian Fair.

The exhibit, which has its own room at the museum, includes a trumpet Stuart played in the Philadelphia High School marching band and one of his first guitars. Other items include framed records, concert outfits, photos of Stuart at the Neshoba County Fair, and a contract from when he performed with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass for a payment of $1,000.

Philadelphia artist Kyle Stribling, who designed the road marker for Marty Stuart Drive, off Mississippi 19 north near Arlington Baptist Church, said the project conveyed many references to different stages in Stuart's life, from a child growing up in Neshoba County to the present time.

Stuart thanked Stribling for his work, and called the marker a beautiful work of art. "I've traveled all around the world and yours takes second place to none," Stuart said. "It's wonderful."

Stuart thanked those in attendance including his family. "The people and the things that are nearest and dearest to my heart are in front of me and behind me today," he said. "I am most honored to have my mother here; my sister Jennifer; my wife Connie; and our granddaughter from Oslo, Norway, Marina."

He compared his long, successful career in the music industry to that of a dream. "It's a wonderful thing to know where you come from and it's a wonderful thing to know when it's all over where you are going," Stuart said. "Both ends of that is covered in my life. So many times in my life, if it hadn't been for the families and the land to walk on this road, this community and what was instilled in me before I ever left home, I would have been gone a long time ago. I appreciate God's hand on my life. I appreciate everything he has blessed me with. It has been like living a dream many, many times."

Stribling gave those in attendance a brief overview of the marker, first noting that its three horizontal railroad ties represent Stuart's fascination with trains. "As a child, the sound of trains would always fill the empty nights behind his house and it was his dream to get on one of those trains and ride it all around the world pursuing the dream that he soon would find," Stribling said.

Behind the ties at its focal point are three granite vertical forms with numerous vertical lines representing the neck of each stringed instrument that has played a role in Stuart's life. In the left form are four vertical lines representing the fiddle that Stuart watched his grandfather, Levi Lincoln Stuart, play as a child. At the center are eight vertical lines representing the mandolin which landed Stuart a job at age 12 with the Sullivan Family Gospel Singers and later Lester Flatt. On the right form are six vertical lines representing the rhythm and electric guitar he had at age 22 when he joined Johnny Cash's band as a guitarist.

"These three forms culminate in a fitting tribute to Marty's prodigious and amazing skill as a professional musician," Stribling said.

At the base of the forms is a foundation constructed of Tennessee white stone which was quarried in Murfreesboro. "It serves as a homage to Marty's home away from home, his adopted home of Tennessee," Stribling said. Within the stone base is a bronze cross representing Stuart's foundation of faith. Found throughout the marker is the color black, in remembrance of Cash who died in September 2003.

"Marty vowed to only wear black during his performances as a way to honor the true 'Man in Black,'" Stribling said.

Before the marker was officially unveiled, Stuart also thanked contractors Dennis Dungy of Middle, Tennessee and Bo Sledge of Philadelphia, Mississippi. He presented Sledge with a gift and a plaque thanking him for his friendship and his efforts with the marker. He surprised Dungy by singing a song he had written about him. Dungy helped renovate a house Stuart and his wife purchased in Tennessee.

"He has gone on to be a man whose work I love," Stuart said. "I see a lot of beauty. I see a lot of art and a lot of life in it. His heart goes into every stone he lays. When you take this veil off this monument you will see."

The dedication, with District 1 Supervisor Keith Lillis as master of ceremonies, included brief comments by Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall and Tribal Miko Beasley Denson.

"Isn't it odd how the red clay of this state gives birth to so many giants of music?" Hall asked. "It's just unbelievable." Hall recalled Stuart receiving the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1999 and later playing the mandolin at Gov. Kirk Fordice's funeral.

"Marty, you not only honored him when you did that, you also honored us," Hall said. "We all appreciate you being such a good ambassador and son of Mississippi."

Denson said he met Stuart about a year ago and came to realize he was a gentleman not only talented in music but a good businessman as well. "He has never forgotten his roots. He has never forgotten the fact that he is from Neshoba County," Denson said. "Today is his day. The dedication today, he is worthy of it, I can assure you."

After the unveiling of the road marker, Stuart made his way to the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum to open the exhibit titled "Mississippi Boy. Marty Stuart. The Neshoba County Years."

Before the exhibit was opened to the public, Mayor James Young took a moment to thank Stuart for his contribution to his hometown's history. "Marty Stuart and others like him make Philadelphia and Neshoba County stand out among other places in America," Young said. "He is truly our native son, and he has never forgotten where he came from."

Stuart spoke briefly about the historical legacy held by Philadelphia and said he was more than happy to call Neshoba County his true place of origin. "Neshoba County has a story like no other place in the world, and this museum helps tell that story well," he said.

After thanking museum council members, Stuart and his wife were the first to tour the exhibit as television cameras and other visitors lined up outside the museum to see the "Marty Stuart Room."

"I think the final product really looks great," said museum council member Alice Rowe. "I don't think any of us ever expected it to look this good."

By Debbie Burt Myers

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