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(c) by Bob Phillips

If Minnie Pearl could have been with us, you can be sure it would have
been a rousing 100th birthday party, with all her friends from the Grand
Ole Opry in attendance.  She passed away at the age of 83 in 1996.  She
was an important influence on younger female country music singers and
rural humorists, and in 1992 she was ranked as number 14 on CMT’s 40
Greatest Women in Country Music.  She would have had a few friends from
outside her ‘country music’ clan at the party, including Dean Martin. 
She even appeared on Martin’s show, and another close friend was Pee
Wee  Herman.  Paul Reubens, who played the role, made his last
appearance as that character on a Minnie Pearl tribute show.
     According to Bob Everhart, President of
the National Traditional Country Music Association, “We tried for years
to get Minnie to come to the upper Midwest to induct her into America’s
Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame, but our dates (the week before
Labor Day Aug 27-Sept 2 this year) never coincided with her available
dates, so we never got it done.  We will this year.  We will also induct
Lynn Anderson as well as her mother Liz Anderson, and Tom T Hall and
his wife Dixie.  We’re trying hard to get Larry the Cable Guy to accept
on Minnie Pearl’s behalf, he was deeply influenced by her comedy, and
they were close friends.”
     The Hall of Fame will also induct about
25 other deserving individuals from local and regional areas, as well
as the national scene.  Sarah Ophelia Cannon (Minnie’s real name) was
deeply involved with cancer research in her last days.  After battling
breast cancer through aggressive treatments including a double
mastectomy and radiation therapy, she became a spokeswoman for the
medical center in Nashville, which also created the Minnie Pearl Cancer
Foundation, in her memory.  They too, are celebrating Minnie’s 100th
birthday party by providing space on their website for “Minnie Moments.”
     Minnie’s first theatrical job was with a
touring company where she produced and directed plays and musicals. She
met a mountain woman in Alabama, who became the basis for “Cousin
Minnie Pearl.”  It didn’t take long for her to catch the attention of
the Grand Ole Opry, and she was asked to perform on the Opry in November
of 1940.  That experience lasted more than 50 years as she became a
regular on the show.
     According to Everhart, “We continue the
tradition of Minnie’s great comedy at our festival of old-time country
music in LeMars, Iowa.  One of the things we do is host a ‘country
style’ comedy contest.  Another is a direct remembrance of Minnie. 
We’re going to gather together as many of our audience at one time in
one place, and yell Minnie’s signature greeting.  This will hopefully
establish a record for America’s Book of World Records.  There’s also
going to be a Minnie Pearl free watermelon feed, and I think she’d
probably like that best of all.”
      Everhart actually met Minnie.  “I was
playing guitar behind a young fiddler, Sean Pittman from Springfield,
Missouri. We were at the set of Hee Haw waiting to go on for a spot when
Minnie walked by.  She saw young Sean, patted him on the head and said
‘What a sweet looking little boy.”  I took my hat off and offered my
head but she just sniffed and walked on by.”
     The seven day festival Everhart
directs, will host well over 650 musicians playing old-style country
music acoustically on no less than ten stages.  “It’s pretty amazing,”
Everhart added, “I believe it’s something Minnie would have approved.”
     More information about the event is available at their website http://www.ntcma.net

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