By MATT RAYMOND
The Library of Congress and the Country Music Association (CMA) recently sponsored a day-long program for the CMA Board of Directors at the nation’s library, including a comprehensive tour of the historic Jefferson Building, an extensive orientation to the Library’s music, sound recording, and folk collections focusing on Country Music, and a concert in the Coolidge Auditorium.
Members of the County Music Association’s (CMA) board visited the Library of Congress for the first time on March 9 to celebrate the role of this uniquely American form of music in our culture. The “story tellers” who bring their songs to countless fans came together with the “story keepers” in the nation’s library, whose efforts preserve that creativity.
But more than just celebrating, both sides were looking to build bridges that could ultimately augment the Library’s country-music collections and programs.
Dozens of board members gathered in the Members Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building to hear presentations by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and curators from three custodial divisions: Music; the American Folklife Center; and Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound. The board members marveled over such artifacts as a Stradivarius violin, original scores by Bach and Aaron Copland; and the copyright-deposited lead sheet for the song “Okie from Muskogee,” by Merle Haggard and Ray Edward Burris.
“This is the first time we have met with the leadership of country music’s most important organization, recognizing our mutual interest in fostering as well as preserving country music in all its varied forms and styles,” Billington told the CMA members.
“I hope this is the first of many more encounters, both formal and informal, from you and the many country music composers, performers, publishers and broadcasters you represent.”
At a rousing concert that evening in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, the crowd leapt to their feet in applause no fewer than four times for a half-dozen of country music’s most popular and influential stars—and even surprise “guest performer” Billington.
The artists included Kix Brooks, half of the enormously successful Brooks & Dunn; Bob DiPiero, who has written 14 No. 1 songs, including the Oak Ridge Boys’ smash hit “American Way”; singer and prolific composer John Rich of Big & Rich; singer Lorrie Morgan, recipient of multiple awards and platinum records; singer and composer Victoria Shaw, who has written eight No. 1 songs, including John Michael Montgomery’s “I Love the Way You Love Me”; and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Randy Scruggs, the son of Earl Scruggs of Flatt and Scruggs fame.
After performing more than a dozen songs, the performers surprised Billington by calling him on stage after having learned about his past brushes with country music, some of which came during his service at U.S. Army bases in the South. In a command performance, the Librarian crooned one of his favorite songs, “There Stands the Glass,” from the podium as the musicians onstage backed him. He even executed a deft dance maneuver that left the crowd roaring with applause.
Many of the night’s performers (minus the Librarian) are members of CMA’s board of directors. Board Chair Steve Moore said the organization was founded in 1958 in response to fears that the rise of Elvis Presley and rock ‘n’ roll would relegate his industry’s art-form to also-ran status. CMA is perhaps best known for the annual CMA Awards and its creation of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Library’s Country Music Collections
Country Music and its roots are well-represented in the Library’s music collections, including rare gems such as “The Wreck of the Old ‘97” sung by Fred Lewey and recorded by Robert W. Gordon in Concord, N.C. (1925); the first recording of “Tom Dooley” sung by Frank Proffitt in Beech Mountain, N.C. (1940); copyright deposits of handwritten lead sheets by country music greats before they became famous, such as “I Fall to Pieces” by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard (1960), “Crazy” by Willie Nelson (1961), “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard and Roy Edward Burris (1969), and “You’re Lookin’ at Country” by Loretta Lynn (1970); the Louisiana Hayride collection, and much more.
Performances of some of these great works, such as “Tom Dooley,” have been selected for inclusion on the National Recording Registry. Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board, is tasked with selecting 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” To date there are 275 recordings on the list.
Joining the Library’s county music collections is a recent donation to the Library from CMA—a leather-bound DVD collection of four decades of CMA Awards broadcasts, anniversary television specials, and the most recent jewel in CMA’s TV coffers, the annual “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock.” The DVD offers a complete musical journal of the country music format: the music, the stars, and the themes that have defined the genre for more than 40 years.