Country icon Pat Boone talks about his line-dancing hit – and the day he asked Red Foley if he could marry his daughter
Pat’s lifelong love for Shirley – and grits
By Preshias Harris for Country Music News International Magazine
Pop quiz: Can you name an 89-year-old recording artist whose latest record charted … on the Line Dance charts?
Answer: Pat Boone. Wait, what?! A Pat Boone song is getting the boots scooting across the dance floor for the line dancing crowd? Absolutely!
The song is titled “Grits” and Pat Boone sat down with me during CMA Fest in Nashville to talk about the song and the heartwarming story of his marriage to Shirley, his wife of almost sixty-six years until her passing in 2019.
Other than his devotion to Shirley, Pat’s lifelong love affair is with grits. For those who don’t know, grits are a food staple in the Southern states of America, made from stone-ground corn, slow-cooked to make a kind of porridge finished with cream and butter, similar to polenta.
“I ate grits this morning, for breakfast at Cracker Barrel,” Pat told me as he began to talk about his latest recording. “My record is called “Grits” and Ray Stevens is on it with us, and the Gatlin Brothers, Lorrie Morgan, Debbie Allen and Roger Miller’s son Dean.”
Pat then sang me an acapella version of part of the song’s chorus:
“Grits, grits, bestest food there itz,
Country caviar, Tennessee foir gras,
Grits, grits, bestest food there itz,
Keep your fancy food, give me my grits.”
“When he heard it, Dean Miller said, ‘That sounds like something my dad Roger would have written,’” Pat told me. “Well, how could I get a better compliment than that? It’s on its way to being a big hit and a lady has created a special ‘Grits’ line dance. You know, line dancing is so popular, they have their own charts! She created the ‘Grits’ line dance and that immediately went to the top of their chart. And it’s going crazy on Spotify. So, here at eighty-nine, I’ve just embarked on my ninetieth year and I’ve got a country hit called ‘Grits’!”
“Grits” was produced by Jimmy Miller and Frank Myers. Listen to “Grits” and other Pat Boone music at his record label website https://www.goldlabelartists.com.
We talked about Pat’s early life. “I grew up in Nashville. I’m one of the two Nashville performers [from that era] who became really successful – Dinah Shore and myself – and we grew up here. She went to Hume Fogg High School, I went to David Lipscomb High School. I milked the family cow on Lone Oak Road off Granny White Pike when I was growing up and I went to college there [Lipscombe University].”
Pat then related the story of his ‘whirlwind marriage’ to Shirley.
“When I was nineteen, Shirley Foley and I were already in love,” Pat told me. “Her mom had already died. Shirley’s mom, Eva Overstake, was one of the Three Little Maids in Chicago on the WLS Barn Dance when Red married her. Shirley’s dad, Red [country singer Red Foley], was taking the kids to Springfield, Missouri, to start the Ozark Jubilee. Nobody knew if it would be successful, although he’d been hosting the Opry for nine years.
“So Shirley and I went into the little breakfast room in their nice house on Bear Road in Nashville and Red said, ‘What can I do for you kids?’ And I said, ‘Mr. Red, you know I love your daughter Shirley.’ He said, ‘I know you do.’ And to Shirley, he said, ‘And you do too, don’t you honey?’ And she said, ‘Yes I do, daddy.’ I said, ‘I’ve already asked her and she said yes. I want your permission for us to get married.’ Red’s eyes teared up and he asked me, ‘Are you going to take care of my girl?’ and naively I said, ‘Yes Mr. Red, I’m going to take care of your daughter.’ And that’s when a tear ran down his nose and into his coffee. He said to Shirley, ‘Is this what you want, honey?’ She said, ‘Yes daddy.’ He thought a minute and said, ‘I’ll buy your rings. When do you want to get married?’ He knew it would be soon because he was moving to Springfield the next week. So we said, ‘Tomorrow!’ And we did!”
They quickly bought the rings at a little jewelry store on Saturday morning, then Pat and Shirley went to Whites Creek Church where they were married by a minister named Matt Craig who was also a high school principal.
“The minister’s wife was Shirley’s Maid of Honor so it was just the four of us,” Pat recalled. “Then we went to Springfield, Tennessee, where a Justice of the Peace married us for the second time, so we were really married! We got married twice on the same day!”
Pat was scheduled to sing that night at a church in Franklin, Tennessee.
Thinking back to that momentous day, Pat said, “Along the way I had to stop and call my mom and daddy and tell them, ‘I won’t be home for dinner tonight. Shirley and I just got married.’ ‘What? You did what?’”
Pat laughed at that memory, but said that although his folks loved Shirley they were afraid Pat wouldn’t finish college if he got married so young.
His parents’ concerns were unfounded because Pat went on to graduate, magna cum laude from Columbia University School of General Studies. “When that happened, Shirley and I were both twenty-three,” he said. “We already had four kids, I was on the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom on ABC Television on Thursday nights, I had hit movies, hit records.”
He reflected for a moment then summed it up this way: “It all happened so fast. And it really hasn’t slowed down much since then.”
Pat Boone is truly a living legend. A singer, actor and television personality, he has sold 45 million records worldwide, including 38 Number One hits. He has starred in 12 movies including such major hits as April Love and State Fair.
As an author, Pat is promoting his 28th book titled “IF – The Eternal Choices We Must All Make” available at Amazon and other major retailers. He also hosts “The Pat Boone Hour” on SiriusXM satellite radio.
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