Nashville, Tennessee–Four more stars were awarded on Tuesday, June 21 on Nashville’s Music City Walk of Fame. The inductees received the 81st, 82nd, 83rd and 84th stars on the Walk of Fame. Inductees are recognized for their significant contributions to preserving the musical heritage of Nashville and for contributing to the world through song or other industry collaboration. Brenda Lee, who is known as “Little Miss Dynamite” and of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” fame; Grand Ole Opry member Jeannie Seely; Grammy-winning artist and comedian Ray Stevens; and Nashville-based pop artist Ben Folds, who notably helped save Music Row’s Studio A all received stars on the Music City Walk of Fame during an induction ceremony on Aug. 21, 2018, in Music City Walk of Fame Park in Nashville.
“This summer’s Music City Walk of Fame inductees reflect the incredible breadth of the many musical gifts Nashville has sent out into the world,” Mayor David Briley said. When referring to Nashville’s incredible growth, Briley said, “the city remains about the people who live here and not about the things that are being built. And there is no truer way to acknowledge that than to talk about the music that takes place here. We have four great people who are being inducted today who are being honored and inducted and have great stories about Nashville and tell great stories about Nashville.”
Brenda Lee has been a superstar since childhood, selling more than 100 million units of music globally. She released her first single when she was only 11 years old, shared the stage of the Grand Ole Opry with Elvis Presley at 12 and watched The Beatles open for her on tour in Europe before she turned 20.
The Grammy nominee’s biggest single was “I’m Sorry” in 1960, which went on to sell more than 20 million copies. And as one of the biggest Christmas songs of all time, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” reached number one again in 2015, 55 years after it was released. Brenda Lee is the only female member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The legendary Charlie Daniels introduced Brenda Lee whom he called “an American treasure.” He said, “Brenda basically went from the cradle to the stage, singing professionally when she was in single digits and making a name for herself in the Atlanta area.”
When I asked Lee if she came from a musical family she said, “Nobody on either side sings or plays or does anything, just me. I don’t know where that came from. When I was a little girl, my mother used to sing to me and I know I loved the songs. When I got old enough to talk and realize the songs meant something, I asked her whose songs they were and she said, ‘Hank Williams.’ So I immediately became a Hank Williams fan and my first record was written by Hank [Williams].”
Lee was then discovered by Red Foley in 1955 and went on to do his network show called The Ozark Jubilee. A columnist from New York named Jack O’Brien wrote a brief article on her. After that article, Brenda Lee went on to do the Perry Como Show, the Steve Allen Show and the Ed Sullivan show. This all occurred for her between the ages of 10-13 years old.
As she received her star, Lee said, “Here today in Music City, USA, I think of all the history. I know this tribute is not about me… it’s about the songwriters, the musicians, the producers and in my case, the great Owen Bradley.” And she especially thanked her fans who “stood beside me all these years.”
A member of the Grand Ole Opry for 51 years, Jeannie Seely’s recordings have spanned six decades. She was a prolific songwriter, and she earned a Grammy for her recording of “Don’t Touch Me” in 1967. A country music legend and trailblazer, Seely became the first female to regularly host segments of the weekly Opry shows and is credited for being the first to wear a mini-skirt on the Opry stage. As a regular performer at the Opry, I asked Jeannie Sheely what the Opry meant to her and she stated, “the Grand Ole’ Opry means everything to me. My mom told me that I was four years old, I was able to reach 650 on the dial. I loved when I heard [the Opry]. I still like to hear the Grand Ole’ Opry at any time of the day and night and we can now because of the internet.” She also hosted a show on the Armed Forces Network, wrote a book and starred in several major stage productions.
Jeannie Seely was introduced by fan-favorite, Trisha Yearwood.
Said Yearwood, “If you ever get the chance to see Jeannie perform live [at the Opry] the songs are one thing which is amazing but her sense of humor is so great and at every show, she has told some joke that has me laughing.”
Not only is Jeannie Seely an amazing musician, she is a prolific songwriter whose song, Anyone Who Knows What Love Is was recently recorded by pop musician, Seal.
Yearwood said, “It is not a small thing how you have showed women that we can do anything that we want, we can be anyone we want and we can compete with the big boys.”
When Seely received her award she joked, “Following Brenda Lee is like following a kid and a dog act all at the same time. Whose idea was this?” As Seely thanked those who helped her along the way she stated, “it almost sounds like Brenda and I copied a speech somewhere, but when you are telling the truth, you’re going to say the same thing.”
Jeannie Seely recalled that years ago she was given a plaque that states ‘Always Have a Dream’ and that she always tried to follow that advice. “But some things are beyond even my wildest dreams and this today is certainly one of those things. I have seen the respect that people have given to everyone who was represented on this walkway. I can only hope that I have earned that respect and that I can continue to deserve it.”
Twelve-time nominated and two-time Grammy winner Ray Stevens has spanned the generations with 60 years of comedic musical talent, including songs such as his multi-million selling hit “The Streak” and his classic pop standard “Everything Is Beautiful.”
I asked Stevens about the vast difference in these two hit pop songs. He said, “I don’t try to explain it. I’m a songwriter… and I can write a song about any subject you want to mention. And that’s what I’ve done for 60 years.”
Throughout his career, Stevens has sold more than 40 million albums and continues daily office operations at his home base, Ray Stevens Music, located on Nashville’s historic Music Row. Stevens also hosts Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville, a 30-minute weekly music/talk show airing on public television. The music legend recently opened his very own Nashville entertainment venue, the CabaRay Showroom, a 35,000-square-foot music venue where Stevens performs weekly live concerts.
Ray Stevens was introduced by famed bluegrass musical master, Ricky Skaggs. Skaggs recounts, “I was listening to Ray Steven’s Everything is Beautiful as I was driving down here today and I thought ‘What a beautiful song that came out of the mind of the Mississippi Squirrel. That is true talent. Ray has never forgotten where he came from and who gave him the talent that he has.”
When he first arrived in Nashville, Stevens states “He got to play on all the record sessions and meet all the great musicians. To me, that’s the best and what I born to do.” WSM’s Bill Cody say that “Ray Stevens is a consummate stage performer whose comedy routine continues to sell out shows today. He’s a producer, arranger, television host….Ray Stevens has simply done it all.” And now he has a well-deserved star on Nashville’s Music City Walk of Fame.
Multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter/composer/producer Ben Folds’ genre-bending body of music spans the musical spectrum from pop to classical. An artistic advisor at the Kennedy Center, Folds actively tours the world performing with orchestras and as a pop artist. He frequently appears in film and TV, was a judge for five seasons on the critically-acclaimed NBC show “The Sing Off,” is an avid photographer, is a leading national advocate for arts funding in our schools and music therapy and is currently writing his first book. He also earned international praise for raising awareness in 2015 that led to the saving of the famed historic RCA Studio A on Music Row from demolition. He also raised tens of thousands of dollars to help rebuild the Schermerhorn after the 2010 flood destroyed it.
Paradigm Talent Agency Partner, Jonathan Levine introduced Ben Folds. As Jonathan began he said, “Music City Walk of Fame- when I think about what those five words represent, it’s an overwhelming thought. All the music that has come from this great city and continues to form it’s very foundation. Nowhere on earth is there a city like Nashville. The Music City music scene has no equal.”
Ben Folds moved to Nashville in the early 1990s and was a pioneer among modern rock artists when he called Nashville, home. He helped expand Music City beyond its country roots and helped inspire artists from other genres to find their way to Nashville.
Levine emphasized that not only is Folds a heralded Rock artist, but he is now regarded as one of the leading orchestral arrangers, producers, and composers of our generation.
Additionally, Ben Folds is a prolific photographer and has worked as a photo editor for National Geographic.
Folds was humbled to be among the honorees as he said he “came to Nashville with a dream and some songs” just like everyone else. He told me that he moved here because “I got a publishing deal from a very small publishing company in Nashville. I was thinking that [Nashville] is a country place, but as soon as I go here, I was overwhelmed by the talent.”
He further states, “There is only one Music City in the world that is precisely built on music and there has to be some living history and evidence.” Ben Folds’ unparalleled musical talent and philanthropic endeavors have earned him a piece of that history on the Music City Walk of Fame.
The Music City Walk of Fame was created in 2006 on Nashville’s Music Mile, a roughly one-mile stretch that connects downtown to Music Row. Permanent sidewalk medallions with the names of the inductees are displayed in a star-and-guitar design.
The Music City Walk of Fame is an official project of Music City, Inc., the charitable foundation of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, and is produced with the support of founding sponsor Gibson Brands and additional sponsors that include the City of Nashville, Metro Parks and Recreation and Bridgestone Arena. Nominations are open to the public and are accepted in the categories of Artist, Musician, Songwriter, and Producer/Music Industry Executive. Application forms are reviewed by the Music City Walk of Fame anonymous selection committee. For more information about the Music City Walk of Fame, go to visitmusiccity.com/walkoffame.
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Bethany Bowman is an entertainment writer for The Tennessee Star. Follow her on Twitter at @BethanyBowman.