Most musicians probably would be satisfied during a performance with a single standing ovation. But at a rousing concert Tuesday in the Coolidge Auditorium, the crowd leapt to their feet in applause no less than four times for a half dozen of country music’s most popular and influential stars—and even surprise “guest performer” Librarian of Congress James H. 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.
Nearing the end of a dozen-plus 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 the board of directors of the Country Music Association (CMA), an organization whose chairman, Steve Moore, said 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.
Members of the board visited the Library of Congress for the first time to celebrate the place of this uniquely American form of music in our culture: the “story tellers” who bring their songs to countless fans, and the “story keepers” of the Library of Congress 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.
Earlier in the day, dozens of CMA board members gathered in the Members Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building to hear presentations by 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.”