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Why Did the Kennedy Center Shun Eddy Arnold?

by Mark Dankof Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002 at 9:49 AM
med1chd2@concentric.net 302-981-3797 USA

Were the hidden hands of Al Gore and Ted Kennedy behind the deep-sixing of the nomination of country music legend Eddy Arnold for Kennedy Center Honors? The answer may yet emerge in the U. S. Senate race in Tennessee.

"Say it Ain't So, Ted": The Kennedy Center Shuns Eddy Arnold

by Mark Dankof for Global News Net (GNN)

global_news_net-subscribe@yahoogroups.com



In my brief career as a free-lance journalist and occasional correspondent for Global News Net (GNN), I have discovered that the most significant story in any given locale or situation is the one often ignored.

I rediscovered this truism some nights ago, when informed by a friend that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts had once again passed by the legendary Eddy Arnold as a recipient of its highest award as a contributor to the world's musical, artistic, and cultural milieu. In hearing about this, my thoughts immediately turned to two subjects. The first was a re-hash in my own mind of Mr. (now Dr.) Arnold's gargantuan accomplishments. You won't hear it advertised on Howard Stern's show this morning in New York, but Eddy Arnold stands as the leading record seller of all time in the history of American country music, one of the top 4 recording artists of all time in total record sales (along with Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles), the first Entertainer of the Year in the history of the CMA Award (1967), a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame (1966), the first country music artist in the history of television to appear on such historic, syndicated national television shows as the Milton Berle Hour, the first country music artist in history to appear at Carnegie Hall in New York, and the only recording artist in the history of the industry to have a top 40 hit in each of seven (7)---yes, seven (7) decades. You get the picture.

My second thought is admittedly an ugly one, but potentially accurate. You see, I believe that Eddy Arnold was ignored again by what allegedly stands as our nation's artistic and musical elite for demographic reasons. They tend not to like 84 year old White Heterosexual Southern Males (what Paul Craig Roberts of the Washington Times calls WHAMs), who profess the Christian religion; stay married to the same woman for 60+ years; give up a lucrative TV career to take care of an invalid son at home (the result of a 1971 car accident in Alabama); avoid alcohol and drug abuse; and sing only of love of God, the Right Woman, the home, the family, and what, unfortunately, we used to call our nation's transcendent ideals. Eddy Arnold's rejection again by the Kennedy Center is in fact a microcosm of the larger problem--our intelligensia in Babylon-by-the-Potomac now represents the repristination of the Roman Empire, and We the People are beginning to catch on to this fixed--and predicable--Act, and to the fact that as Sonny Liston once put it, "If I go in Six (6), it's a fix." Sonny, you may recall, said this before failing to come out for the seventh round against Muhammad Ali in Miami Beach in February of 1964.

But back again to a poignant, pleasant, personal memory of Eddy Arnold. In 1977 at the age of 22, I quietly walked out of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I had wanted to be a Lutheran pastor since my days in parochial school in Hawaii in the mid-1960s. You may recall that in 1973-74, there was a political and theological explosion at that institution which even made Time Magazine as the "Great Lutheran Civil War ." I had been putting up with this internecine warfare in my church body since my undergraduate days at Valparaiso University in Indiana between 1973-77. I had decided in the fall of 1977 I'd had enough. On the fateful weekend that I "got out of Dodge," I called a close friend at the Valparaiso University Law School who drove down to St. Louis in the wee hours to pick me up. We went back to Valparaiso for a few days, before I flew back to my home in San Antonio, Texas. From there I tried to get on with the rest of my life.

Unbeknownst to me then, shortly after my sobering departure for Texas in the fall of 1977, Eddy Arnold showed up at the Mill Run Theater at the Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles, Illinois (a northern suburb of Chicago) for a multi-night engagement. You can get there from Valparaiso University in about 90 minutes. Because my collection of Eddy Arnold albums was a standing joke among my friends at the University--most of whom were weaned on Frank Zappa--several decided to buy tickets as a lark, and go on a Saturday night to see "The Tennessee Plowboy."

The night after the show, one of Frank Zappa's groupies called me in Texas from Valparaiso University. I will never forget the call. In a reverent, repentant, almost sheepish tone, the voice at the other end of the line confessed, "You know Dankof, we never understood your records, until we saw the guy for ourselves. I have to admit, it was the best nightclub act I've ever seen. We talked about it all the way home. And I'll never admit to my parents that they were right."

A week after the show, living alone in San Antonio and trying to get on with my rather dishevelled life, a magnum sized manila envelope appeared in my mailbox. There was no return address. The postmark showed the name of a town in Tennessee I had never heard of. When I opened the package to look at the contents, there was a note and a picture. The note said:

"Mark. I met several of your college friends after my concert in Chicago the other evening. I sometimes hang around after the show to do a few photos and autographs. Your friends were among those who waited in the line. They told me that you were the only reason they had come, but they ended up being glad for the experience. One thing about show business---it takes you everywhere, and you meet almost everyone. It is one of the reasons, in addition to my singing, that I still go on the road.

"I also learned of your unfortunate experience in St. Louis. You know my music well enough to know how many of my songs deal with the unhappy and the tragic. Perhaps some of these lyrics will speak to you once more--but I include this note and signed sketch with date as a reminder of a bright future and new roads ahead."

Eddy Arnold

The Canadian singing great, Anne Murray, once said, "Eddy Arnold doesn't make you feel the lyrics--he makes you believe them." But for the guys whose resumes proudly claim service "On the Board of Trustees at the Kennedy Center for thePerforming Arts," they neither feel, nor believe, the greatness of the life and career of America's Ambassador of Country Music. But for those of us who have received Dr. Arnold's message of love in song--and in thought, word, and deed--we love and salute him, now and always.

(Mark Dankof is an ordained Lutheran pastor who serves as a correspondent for Global News Net (GNN). His articles and book reviews can be found in many locations on the World Wide Web, including his own site at www.MarkDankof.com .)

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