By Shawn Pitts
This week Arts in McNairy will induct the ninth class into the McNairy County Music Hall of Fame. For almost a decade now, we’ve endeavored to recognize those who have played a significant role in shaping our musical heritage. The annual induction ceremony and tribute concert has become one of my favorite evenings on the year. The Hall of Fame proceedings, from overseeing the nomination process, to writing the induction speeches, to producing the annual ceremony, are among the most gratifying projects ever entrusted to me as a community arts volunteer.
I use the word “entrusted” because that’s what it feels like: a solemn trust. The many fine musicians of this region—and as often as not their children or grandchildren—have trusted me to tell their stories with accuracy and dignity. That is a sobering proposition, and I have ever approached the role with reverence and the most profound appreciation for the confidence these families have placed in me. It is a deeply personal experience to have a grown man approach with a lump in his throat after the ceremony to say how much he and his family appreciate the remembrance of their relative’s musical contributions. Sometimes people confess that they thought others had either forgotten their loved one’s music or else regarded it as a frivolous pursuit. For the record, let me assure you, there is nothing frivolous about uniting people in the joy of music making.
Seeing a mention of Hall of Fame membership in an obituary, as we did this last week with the passing of the extraordinary Peck Boggs, is among the more poignant reminders of how important it is to do these things while people are around to know how much they are appreciated. It was my great privilege to read Peck’s biography and induct him into the Hall of Fame in 2017. I was struck by his family’s gratitude on that occasion and moved by their inclusion of his membership in the long list of musical accomplishment highlighted in his obituary. If ever there was a doubt about the meaningfulness of music in our lives, a family’s desire to have such details published in remarks that will forever frame their loved one’s legacy should be the final word on that subject.
All this is to say the music people make and share with appreciative audiences is a serious business. If you’ve ever caught yourself involuntarily tapping your toe, or been transported by the beauty of a vocal or instrumental performance, you will know exactly what I mean. Music touches something deep within us and draws us together in our common humanity, and this is what the McNairy County Music Hall of Fame is all about. The people who spend countless hours honing their skills and collaborating with fellow musicians to bring the light of music alive in our community deserve our gratitude and sometimes a smattering of applause just won’t cut it. It’s a small thing to acknowledge our appreciation with an award and a brief induction speech, but I am constantly reminded how meaningful it is to the individuals we honor. That’s more than enough to keep me motivated.
If you’ve never done so, I encourage you to logon to the Hall of Fame/Trail of Legends website and peruse the past induction speeches. If you are up for more active pursuits, get out this summer and walk the Trail of Music Legends in downtown Selmer. It’s a mile loop between the Latta trailhead and Dixie Park. If you hold off until Friday, you will be able to see the latest Tennessee Music Pathways installation at Rockabilly Park. It offers a broad overview of the area’s music history while the Trail of Music Legends markers fill in the details for more curious walkers. I’ll wager that you’ll learn a thing or two, and you might even be amazed by the depths and diversity of our music heritage. More importantly, you will help us fulfill the primary mission of the McNairy County Music Hall of Fame: giving honor where honor is due.