The Country-Music Pantheon: See if you can find Willie Nelson at this 1959 awards gala, held at Nashville’s Belle Meade Country Club, which drew many of the songwriters and performers who dominated country music from the 1940s through the 1970s. A selective sample includes Bill Anderson (upper left), who was later a familiar TV figure; Harlan Howard (smiling, at top); Mel Tillis (just above center, looking to left); Buck Owens (to the right of Mel Tillis); Pee Wee King, composer of the “Tennessee Waltz,” among other things (at left, looking up at camera); Cindy Walker, former Hollywood professional who became perhaps Nashville’s first female country songwriter (“You Don’t Know Me,” “Dream Baby”) (in foreground in white); Jim Reeves, (to the right of Walker, in white jacket with black lapel), the popular singer/songwriter killed in a 1964 plane crash; Skeeter Davis (excited-looking woman standing right behind Reeves), who had hits with several of Marie Wilson’s songs; Boudleaux Bryant (in glasses, looking toward Reeves), with his wife Felice (not pictured), wrote most of the Everly Brothers hits, and later a song called “Rocky Top”; 23-year-old Roger Miller (just behind Bryant, with prominent forehead); and Lorene Mann (woman standing by the sofa). Marie Wilson is in lower center, looking directly at the camera. The 26-year-old Willie Nelson is at top, right of center, looking grim and nervous. He was then known and respected by other songwriters, but would not be famous as a performer until about 15 years later, after reinventing himself as an “outlaw.” He and Harlan Howard, standing near him, wrote Patsy Cline’s two biggest hits, “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces,” respectively.
I really enjoyed your article about Marie Wilson. [“Like a Country Song,” cover story by Jack Neely, Aug. 4, 2011] On page 18, I think I spot two more great stars, both Country Music Hall of Fame members. Top left next to Bill Anderson is one of my all-time favorites, Faron Young. Directly behind Lorene Mann is Carl Smith, who was June Carter’s first husband before Johnny Cash.
That’s a great photo!
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