Nashville's biggest stars will fall on Washington March 16 for a black-tie, invitation-only gala at Constitution Hall saluting the Country Music Association's (CMA) 25th anniversary. The celebrity-studded concert, which one organizer already is calling a "Cecil B. De Mille production with a cast of thousands," will be taped by CBS for broadcast April 13.
The list of performers is a virtual Who's Who in country music. It includes Willie Nelson, Barbara Mandrell, Merle Haggard, the Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Anne Murray, Gene Autry, Glen Campbell, Ray Charles, Charlie Daniels, Jimmy Dean, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Larry Gatlin, Ronnie Milsap, Minnie Pearl, Merle Travis, Kitty Wells, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Grandpa Jones, Peewee King and John Ritter (son of the legendary Tex Ritter).
Other guests include classical violinist (and country music fanatic) Eugene Fodor, former Alabama governor Jimmie Davis (author of "You Are My Sunshine" and a country star before he was a politician), and Sens. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Byrd, of course, is an accomplished fiddler and occasional guest on "Hee Haw." Believe it or not, there still are some guests to be announced.
One of the reasons Washington was picked: The first televised broadcast of a country music show originated in July 1948 from Constitution Hall and was produced by Connie B. Gaye, the Washington broadcast entrepreneur who was the founding president of the CMA (until 10 years ago, he also owned WGAY). The show was broadcast over the entire NBC-TV network--which at that time reached only Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Several acts from 1948 are coming back this year, including Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and Kitty Wells, who way back when was just a singer in the band with Johnny and Jack and the Tennessee Mountain Boys.
Gaye, 68, will be honored during the program. A CMA spokesperson said the concert will be "a celebration of a quarter century of the CMA promoting country music worldwide, with lots of musical segments celebrating the way the music started and bringing it up to where it is today."
The finished show will run 90 minutes. The producers are Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, who did Elvis Presley's last special, "Baryshnikov on Broadway" and specials with Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Bette Midler. For the last two years, they've produced the Emmy Awards program. They're no strangers to the CMA, either: Fifteen years ago, they produced the first two years of the CMA Awards show from the original Grand Ole Opry.