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Sparkle & Twang exhibit promotes musical heritage in the Black Belt

LIVINGSTON – Elvis Presley’s sweater, Patsy Cline’s makeup case, Johnny Cash’s black suit, and the handwritten lyrics to the Hank Williams hit, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” are only a few pieces of memorabilia that will be on exhibit in Meridian starting this month.

The latest in the continued efforts to preserve and promote the musical heritage of Mississippi and Alabama’s Black Belt region is the exhibit of country artist Marty Stuart’s traveling collection of personal celebrity memorabilia, “Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey,” opening July 10 at the MSU Riley Center.

“This is a vibrant exhibit that is full of historic costumes, key artifacts and a must-see for music lovers,” said Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Director Mary Beth Wilkerson. “Marty is an ambassador for Mississippi, and he plays a very important role in the promotion of the state through his music and his life.”

University of West Alabama President Richard D. Holland has offered his support of the exhibit and its associated events. UWA’s Center for the Study of the Black Belt holds as its mission promoting the region’s abundant and unique natural, historical, and cultural resources.

“We are pleased to join in the efforts to promote our area’s musical heritage and all its influences. We are excited to see enthusiasm for the music and our heritage at events like the Sucarnochee Revue radio show, and now, the Sparkle & Twang exhibit,” Holland said.

Produced by Jacky Jack White, the Sucarnochee Revue showcases regional music in its most authentic manner. Now in its sixth season, the Revue was honored by the Country Music Association for its continuing efforts to support the grassroots of country music and has also received recognition from the Black Belt Community Foundation, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the Mississippi Arts Commission.

Sponsored by UWA’s Center for the Study of the Black Belt and the Sumter County Fine Arts Council, the Sucarnochee Revue airs on public and commercial stations across the country and the world. The show is taped at UWA’s Bibb Graves Auditorium in Livingston and the historic Temple Theater in Meridian and airs Saturday nights at 10 p.m. on Alabama Public Radio.

Sparkle & Twang represents more than 40 years of performers who made country, bluegrass, rock, and southern gospel music famous. Brought to Meridian by the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation, the exhibit focuses on a collection of performance costumes, accessories, handwritten lyrics, personal letters and instruments, all from Stuart’s collection.

“Somebody said to me years ago, ‘People hear with their eyes.’ I’m one of those people,” Stuart said. “The thing I noticed about everybody that I really loved as a kid, whether they came from the blues, country, gospel, jazz, or rock and roll field, is that everybody was a character.”

This attraction to the glitz and glamour, or sparkle and twang, associated with the music business is the inspiration for Stuart’s Peavey Electronics-sponsored exhibit. After a visit with Hard Rock Café co-founder Isaac Tigrett, the country singer decided to craft his own collection of memorabilia from the genre’s most influential musicians.

Music, Stuart says, has been one of his biggest inspirations since childhood. Raised in a family that made music part of its household, he found a new love for it when he realized the impact it would come to have on his life.

In the summer of 1964, when civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were killed in his hometown of Philadelphia, Miss., Stuart said the world around him seemed to change, filled with mobs, marches and segregation. During this dark time, Stuart says he found his escape in music.

“The first time I ever felt the pure power of music was when Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys would come on television. They made me feel like everything was going to be all right,” he explains. “When they would go off the air, it was as if there was a tangible hole that you could feel where all the heaviness came back in, but as long as they were in the living room, everything was going to be all right.”

Holland echoed Stuart’s sentiments, saying, “When you watch some of the regional artists like Muddy Waters and Jimmie Rodgers, and know that their work influenced musicians across the world, you get a feeling of unity and a sense of pride from the music. How do you put that emotion into words?”

Sparkle & Twang opens July 10 with a host of activities planned for the day including a special presentation at 2 p.m. in the Grand Lobby of the MSU Riley Center by Nashville costume designer Manuel, who is famous for having dressed the stars of country music for many years.

In addition to the exhibit, the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation will host legendary country singer Merle Haggard with Marty Stuart live in concert in the MSU Riley Center’s historic theater, and the Sucarnochee Revue will salute Jimmie Rodgers during its Aug. 6 taping.