By Nancy L. Richardson
The original idea of having Eddy Arnold honored by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began with Bill Shoop in the mid 1980s. He had at that time been a fan for over 15 years and wondered why the most successful vocalist in the history of country music had not been saluted. The Kennedy Center Honor is an award for lifetime excellence in the performing arts and Bill could think of no one that deserved it more than Eddy. Bill tried on his own to have hand written letters sent but could not reach the volume of fans and celebrities it took to accomplish such a feat.
In 1997 Bill Comer, who had been Eddy's fan since 1948, decided he would like to have a website dedicated to the man he has admired for so long. In March of 1998 with the help of his son, Bruce, he had the site up and running.
Bill Shoop called the Country Hall of Fame in January of 2001, again looking for help to fulfill his dream. He was told of Bill's “Welcome to My World” website and realized that he, from Kissimmee, Florida and Bill from Orlando, Florida were practically neighbors. He emailed the website asking for help in having Eddy honored. He received a note from Eddy in May thanking him for his efforts but saying he would be very surprised if the Kennedy Center chose to honor him. The great man's humility made both Bills more determined.
In July, Frank Cunningham of Mechanicsburg, PA, who also had been a fan since 1948, got on the bandwagon. Frank taught communications and knew much about dealing with the press and politicians. All three men worked aggressively sending letters and calling prospective endorsers but it was to little to late. They were notified in September of 2001 of the choices made and Eddy was not one of them. Bill Shoop was discouraged and he wrote, "Perhaps Eddy will never receive the recognition that he deserves, we all know he is the best."
Thankfully Frank would not accept defeat and began making plans to have Eddy honored for the year 2002. As early as the end of September the three men began to contact the powers that be. Bill Comer posted their intentions on his website and by the first of November each person who signed his guest book was sent an email asking them to sign a petition for the Kennedy Center on behalf of Eddy.
.Nancy L. Richardson of Gainesboro, TN offered to join the group in November of 2001. She had been Eddy's fan since she was a teen-ager in the mid 1950s. She printed some petitions and took them to her Bible Study group, ladies whose ages ranged from 30 to mid 80s, all knew Eddy and had something nice to say about him. They were proud he was a true Tennessee boy. Nancy sent the petitions and a letter to Frank telling him about the, "girls," who signed them. Frank was glad to have the help of a Tennessean. He knew that Tennessee politicians were more likely to respond to a Tennessee voter than someone from out of state.
Frank contacted Congressman Bob Clements office thinking he was Eddy's representative although he was not. Frank, as the modern saying goes, lucked out. Bob was a close family friend of the Arnolds and he was happy to help. Frank suggested it would be nice if he honored Eddy and Sally for their upcoming 60th wedding anniversary. On November 28th Bob honored the Arnolds on the floor of the US Congress. Bill Shoop meanwhile contacted Congressman Ed Bryant who lived in the town of Eddy's birth. Ed sent the first letter of endorsement to the KC on November 21st with a copy to Bill. Some people would say that fate was on our side but we choose to believe in God’s guiding hand.
Nancy sent letters to all nine Tennessee congressmen. Frank sent the letters in duplicate with instructions. Each one of the eighteen letters was to be signed by the dear church ladies. They signed happily for their native son and no one complained of writer’s cramp.
Next came the Country Music Association. Peggy Whitaker, Director of Board Administration was a great help and has helped us on several occasions. She was our contact with Mr. Ed Benson, Executive Director. He sent a letter to the Kennedy Center on December 18th, 2001. We all sent press releases out to radio, TV, and newspapers. I asked Frank about sending releases to the Nashville media as Eddy, who had no part of our efforts, would surely see if the local media picked it up. Bill Comer called Eddy's office and his secretary, Roberta Edging, replied, "Go ahead, Eddy thinks he will never get the honor."
During December the committee increased to include international fans. Bill Shoop got the idea of contacting The Academy of Country Music in California. They had given Eddy The Pioneer Award. Neither he nor Frank knew how to contact them, so Frank asked Peggy at CMA for help. She gave him the info he needed and also contacted Fran Boyd at ACM herself. Fran gladly sent a letter of endorsement, which Frank received on January 23, 2002.
Don Stewart of Pennsylvania, who has been Eddy's fan since 1948, worked with the committee. He sent emails and back up letters to those that did not reply and thank you letters to those that did. The radio stations were now slowly starting to reply. Bob Cooper from KVOO Radio, Tulsa, Oklahoma was one of the first to support Eddy and shortly after Bob Malkowski of WKAN-AM, Chicago, IL asked if it would be possible to interview Eddy. Bill Comer called Eddy's office and arranged it. Bob said he had never received such a positive reaction to an interview before. On March 9th ABC radio endorsed Eddy. There have been so many small stations joining us and to mention them all would take up much space. We are equally grateful to all.
In January, Nancy sent letters to all of the TN congressmen and senators. On February 2nd the combined offices of Senators Thompson and Frist sent a letter to the Kennedy Center. She received a copy with a letter from each office chief of staff and later letters from the senators themselves. In April the offices of Bob Clement and Bart Gordon sent an endorsement letter to the Kennedy Center.
The campaign had started slowly with a couple of workers. Like a small snowball perched on top of a hill it started to roll and as it did it gained size and momentum. Frank wrote, "There are so many people doing so many things I don't know who is doing what. I need to step back and take a fresh look." He was not overwhelmed for long. Soon he had his own congressman Todd Platt join Tennessee Governor Don Sundquest, and us also gave his support.
Nancy got many of her ideas from articles on Bill's website. She read of Eddy getting an honorary doctorate and phoned Frank asking him if he thought Washington College would write a letter of support. Frank called Bill and got the college president, Dr. John S. Toll's address. Frank sent him a letter and received the reply and endorsement within a couple of weeks.
Upon reading an article of Eddy's visit to The Country Music Hall of Fame, I began to wonder if CMA and Hall of Fame was the same thing. She called Peggy and asked her. Peggy replied though CMA basically ran the Hall of Fame they were two separate organizations with their own directors. She gave Nancy the Hall of Fame's director Kyle Young's name and phone number which she relayed to Frank . Frank called Mr. Young and faxed him the information needed. On April 20th he received a very nice endorsement letter copy from Kyle Young.
Another time she read of the Songwriters Guild giving Eddy “The Presidents Award" and asked Frank about it. He had to research this one as there are so many branches of the guild that no one knew who did what. He finally hit one in New Jersey that kept the records. They sent their endorsement letter for Eddy on April 12th.
Bill Comer contacted the two authors who wrote biographies of Eddy and Don Stewart sent follow up letters. Author Mike Streissguth was kind enough to send endorsement letters with copies to both men. Joe Galante of RCA, Nashville was also very gracious. Nancy sent him a letter asking for an endorsement and Frank followed up with a phone call. Joe sent an endorsement letter to Frank and sent Nancy a special delivery copy by UPS.
Unfortunately not everyone was gracious, as with every campaign there were some adverse replies. Frank, who used his address for the committee received them. Some complained of his emails. A few claimed to be Eddy's long lost relatives. One even replied that he didn't like Eddy. Frank passed the funniest of them to all of us so we could enjoy them.
Frank made several books of laminated articles on Eddy's career for the Kennedy Center, the Tennessee Senators, and Trent Lott of Mississippi. Frank also formatted the many emails and petitions, sending a batch of 500 the first of May and more every couple of weeks since. Tennessee State Senator Charlotte Burks responded to our efforts. Trent Lott, minority leader from Mississippi responded and we all felt was an excellent endorsement. There were several, who for whatever reason, failed to respond. Mayor Purcell of Nashville agreed to join us though that was all we heard from him. Bill Shoop made follow up calls to no avail. There are still a few who said they would send letters but have not yet, that we know of. The mayor of Eddy's hometown, Brentwood, sent an endorsement to KC as soon as he heard of our efforts.
Both Bill's, Don, and Frank are now receiving more attention from the media with some wanting to interview Eddy. Mike Anthony from NYC, WHPC, did an interview. Shirley Sheppard with Bill Comers help interviewed Eddy for her Florida Country Music News. Frank has been on Bob Cooper’s and Bill Mack’s radio shows describing our efforts. A Mennonite rest home in Pennsylvania contacted Frank about giving a presentation to the residents. He and Don have agreed to do so. Don's cousins, Robert and Margaret Patterson of St. Andrews, Scotland sent an endorsement letter. Don also has a friend that puts Eddy's songs to graphics and lets him use her guest-book to send emails to prospective endorsers. Pierrette and Leo Beaulieu of Lery, Quebec, Canada has been working with Canadian media.
It is really quite amazing. Here we are a group of people from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the world, working together as though we have worked with one another for years. We have never met each other yet we have one very strong bond, our love for Eddy, both the man and his music. Whether Eddy wins or not we will love him no less though I know most of us will shed some tears if he does not. It will be the Kennedy Center’s loss if they do not choose to give this great man the honors he so dearly deserves. We continue to work and pray for Eddy. Anyone who has not already signed a petition please do so and the ones who already have please pray with us. Hopefully in a few weeks Bill will be able to add to the bottom of this story that we have accomplished our goal and Eddy will be honored by KC this year.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR ENDORSERS AND HELPERS.
By the end of May all of the Tennessee congressmen except two had endorsed Eddy. Frank received endorsements from Williamson County, Eddy's home county and also from The state of Tennessee Arts commission. At the beginning of July, Nancy received an endorsement letter from Ralph Emery who sent his new novel, Fifty Years Down A Country Road, which he dedicated to Eddy Arnold, Country music's first superstar, to the Kennedy Center along with his endorsement letter.
On the last day of July we found out that the Kennedy Center had made their choices and Eddy was not one of them. We were never formally notified by the center and found the choices hard to believe as some of the recipients have never in their fields achieved what Eddy has in his. We were all devastated and angry. There have been many theories from both workers and fans as to why Eddy did not win. Most all felt that the Kennedy Center has always looked down their noses on the country music community. Given the small handful of country stars recognized by the center in the many years that the honors have been given, this seems to be true. There has been rumors of complex political problems that some of us believe. We all agree that the Kennedy Center should find a more unbiased way of selecting their recipients rather than letting a hundred stars make the final decision. A panel of unbiased judges that would study each stars accomplishments and endorsers, making their final decision on, A Lifetime of Excellence in the Performing Arts, (Kennedy Centers own motto) would seem fairer than a group of stars most of whom are close friends and party together.
Although we didn't win the Kennedy Center Honors for Eddy our campaign turned out to be a huge tribute to Eddy. Many people, celebrities and ordinary people like ourselves, have worked with us, I am sure they feel as bad as we do. In essence the many people that sent endorsements to us and the Kennedy Center are telling Eddy how much they care for him. We want to thank everyone, the politicians, celebrities, those that printed out petitions for others to sign, the ones that sent petitions on line and the letters that were sent directly to Kennedy Center. We thank the radio and news people that helped get our campaign out to the public. We consider you all friends of Eddy and our friends.
Our committee, Bill Comer, who's help with
his wonderful website made our campaign possible. Bill Shoop who
had the original idea, the workers, Don Stewart, Frank Cunningham, our
friends north of the border in Canada, Pierette and Leo Beaulieu, and Nancy
Richardson, we have all worked equally hard for Eddy. It is so easy in
anger to give blame but that has never been Eddy's way. Instead of making
the ending negative we wish to make all of the wonderful letters and endorsements
a tribute to Eddy, a great singer and dear person. We love and appreciate
all of you that have helped us. We love you, Eddy, and so do
millions of other fans. God Bless You Always.!!!
To view photos please click on name
Nancy L. Richardson
Don Stewart (with Eddy Arnold)
Pierrette and Leo Beaulieu
Bill Comer (with Eddy Arnold)
Press the "BACK" button on your browser to return to the previous page.