Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Texas Country Music Hall of Fame

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. 

The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is a temple of cultural history, celebrating the preeminence of Texan artists in a hugely popular musical genre. The TCMHOF is located in Carthage, the seat of Panola County, which is an especially fitting site. Both Tex Ritter and Jim Reeves are natives of Panola County, which is the only county in the United States to claim two members of Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Panola County Chamber of Commerce is housed in a
grand old home, and the Tex Ritter Museum was established
on the second floor
Tex Ritter was the fifth inductee of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the second president of the Country Music Association (the first CMA president was another Texan, Gene Autry). Although Tex was a teenager when his immediate family moved to the Beaumont area, he returned to Panola County to visit relatives until his death in 1974. As director of the Panola County Chamber of Commerce, Tommie Ritter Smith dreamed of establishing a Tex Ritter Museum. Tommie obtained a major donation of memorabilia from Dorothy Fay Ritter and her sons, Tom and John. Their only stipulation was that any student or student group should be granted free admission to the museum. The Tex Ritter Museum was opened on the second floor of the grand old house where the Chamber of Commerce is headquartered.

The new TCMHOF building opened in 2002.
With Tommie Ritter Smith outside the
Chamber of Commerce building.

Tommie Ritter Smith soon conceived of a significant expansion, from the Tex Ritter Museum to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. She obtained a charter from the state, while local support was lined up and a board was organized. Tommie asked me to write a biography of Tex Ritter, offering a wealth of archival materials, including hundreds of glossy photos covering his entire career. I was permitted to keep all of the materials in my home office for nearly a year. When published in 1998 the book featured 200 photos.

The book was completed in time for the 1998 opening of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. A large crowd from Nashville came to Carthage for the August ceremonies, and the annual induction of the TCMHOF continues to be an important event in the C&W industry. The charter inductees in 1998 included Tex Ritter, Jim Reeves, Gene Autry, and Willie Nelson, who arrived in his bus shortly before the performance following appearances in Colorado. Tom and John Ritter - by now a major TV star - were present to represent their father. A capacity crowd of 1,100 enjoyed spectacular performances, and many stayed late as Willie Nelson delivered an impromptu concert beside his bus until two in the morning. Willie has since returned, for his 70th birthday party and to perform at the inductions of his friends Kris Kristofferson and Ray Price.

In 2002 a permanent home for the TCMHOF was opened beside the Chamber of Commerce building. A larger-than-life statue of Tex Ritter and his beloved horse White Flash overlooks the approach of the TCMHOF. A few miles east of Carthage, an impressive statue of Jim Reeves dominates his two-acre gravesite park. Many fans visit the Jim Reeves Park, and many more - sometimes by the busload - tour the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame exhibits.

Of course, the annual TCMHOF induction weekend is a major tourist attraction for Carthage. In addition to inductee performances - and there are posthumous inductions of deceased performers such as Bob Wills and Gene Autry and Lefty Frizzell, as well as Ritter and Reeves - there are special appearances by guest stars. Such inductees as Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys, Tanya "The Texas Tornado" Tucker, Jimmy Dean, the Gatlin Brothers, Johnny Rodriguez, the Texas Playboys, and, of course, Willie Nelson, have electrified the crowds. Grammy-winner Linda Davis from Panola County is an inductee who has made several crowd-pleasing appearances. The star power that radiates from Carthage each August draws larger and larger crowds. This year was the 15th anniversary of the TCMHOF, and the annual event was moved to a new Civic Center with a larger seating capacity. Indeed, the museum needs more exhibit space - the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is a hit!
The logo of the TCMHOF is proudly displayed 
in the museum gift shop.

A display honoring Dale Evans and Red Steagall


In 2006 the Gatlin brothers - Steve, Larry, and Rudy -
gave a memorable performance.


Willie Nelson has electrified several crowds 
at the TCMHOF.

Jim Reeves began his entertainment career as a disk jockey. 
One of several display cases honoring Tex Ritter 
The Wall of Fame commemorates every 
member of the TCMHOF.


Statute of Jim Reeves at his gravesite

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