Today we welcome guest writer Miriam Meeks to the BCM Blog as she shares stories and objects from a wonderful special exhibit currently on display at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in Jackson until December 31. Focused on Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion favorite Marty Stuart and his collection of country music artifacts, this exhibit is sure to be of interest to Birthplace of Country Music fans and friends! Enjoy!
As the year begins to wind down, many people are feeling nostalgic for the past. Until December 31, fans of country music will be able to take a walk down memory lane through the golden age of country music at The World of Marty Stuart, a collaboration between Grammy-winning musician Marty Stuart and MDAH to tell the story of country music with emphasis on its lasting role within Mississippi. The World of Marty Stuart exhibit covers his life and legacy of preserving country music’s stories, photographs, instruments, costumes, and more.
Marty Stuart with his electric guitar. Photo by Alysse Gafken; courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History
As a young boy, Stuart began playing music in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. He joined The Sullivans, a family bluegrass gospel group based in Alabama, after being drawn to bluegrass and gospel music. He played guitar and mandolin with them until eventually meeting bluegrass musician Roland White, who invited Stuart to back Lester Flatt’s band.
After touring with Flatt, Stuart recorded his first solo album, With a Little Help from My Friends, and performed with various artists like Vassar Clements and Doc Watson before joining Johnny Cash’s band in 1980. Stuart collected memorabilia from shows played by fellow musicians, many of whom were friends and mentors of Stuart. His greatest passion to safeguard the legacy of country music strengthened as he continued to produce solo albums.
Over the years, Stuart’s trove of treasures grew as he recognized the importance of preservation. “Somewhere along the way, about the early ‘80s, those artifacts were being discarded,” said Stuart. “So it became a self-appointed mission to curate, protect, and preserve that end of country music: authentic, traditional country music. The people and their treasures.” Hundreds of these priceless artifacts are currently housed at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson as part of The World of Marty Stuart exhibit.
Drum set used by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. Artifacts courtesy of Marty Stuart; photography by Mark Geil
Stuart and the MDAH worked together to curate a truly timeless exhibit, one that gives a small glimpse into Stuart’s dedicated collection. A plethora of pieces from the golden age of country music are on display, including Stuart’s first guitar; original manuscripts from Hank Williams; guitars that belonged to Merle Haggard and Pops Staples; and costumes worn by Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash, including Cash’s “Walk the Line” performance suit.
Eagle-eyed visitors will recognize the connection to the namesake for Stuart’s second solo album from 1982. Stuart first experienced rhythm and blues as a young boy at the Busy Bee Café, now the Busy Bee Suites, in Philadelphia. Virgil Griffin and the Rhythm Kings frequently played there, and now the group’s original bass drum head rests at the Two Mississippi Museums. A school essay also hangs in the halls of the exhibit. A young Stuart was asked by his teacher, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to which Stuart wrote, “a musician.” Now his answer has come full circle. The exhibit is the living embodiment of Stuart’s musical journey resting in the state that raised him.
Various performance costumes featured in The World of Marty Stuart exhibit. Photo courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
What you see in the exhibit is only the tip of the iceberg – in actuality, Stuart has collected over 20,000 pieces of country music memorabilia and historic items, which will settle in the future home of Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music in Philadelphia. This Congress will be a celebration of country music and a culmination of the musician’s ultimate goals.
The World of Marty Stuart exhibit is brought to you by the title sponsor, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, as well as by AT&T and Visit Mississippi. The World of Marty Stuart runs through December 31, 2022, with regular exhibit hours: Tuesday—Saturday, 9:00am—5:00pm and Sunday, 11:00am—5:00pm. For more information, visit www.mdah.ms.gov. You can also check out Stuart’s memoir, The World of Marty Stuart. The book covers his life with photographs and artifact reproductions straight from his collection. It was published by MDAH and distributed by the University Press of Mississippi.
Finally, check out the interview with Nan Prince, Director of Collections at MDAH, that we conducted last week on the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s Museum Talk radio show.
Image at top of page: Marty Stuart and his acoustic guitar. Photo by Alysse Gafken; courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Miriam Meeks is the Content Writer of Moore Media Group in Jackson, Mississippi.