For the Love of Country Music:
Marty Stuart’s
Journey to the
Country Music Hall of Fame

By Cillea Houghton

A young Marty Stuart plays onstage with Lester Flatt. Photo Credit: Hilda Stuart

One could say that Marty Stuart was born with music in his blood. Growing up in his hometown of Philadelphia, MS, Stuart was instilled with a love of all types of music, but it was Country Music that captured his heart. He mowed lawns to pay for his first Fender guitar, forming his first band at the age of 9. The band was what Stuart described as “kids that played Country Music in the midst of a Beatles society.” As a young student, Stuart’s teacher once caught him reading a copy of the Country Song Roundup magazine he had hidden in his history textbook. “She grabbed it and told him, ‘If you would pay attention to your work here instead of reading this stuff, you might learn a little history,’” recounts Stuart’s wife and fellow Country Music icon and Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith. “And he told her, ‘I don’t want to learn history, I want to make history.’”

Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart
Photo Credit: Bill Thorup

It’s this self-fulfilling prophecy that set Stuart’s illustrious career on a path that spans more than five decades and has earned him a coveted spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame, in which he is the Modern Era Artist inductee of the 2020 class. Together Smith and Stuart have made history, as they are the only living married couple to both be in the Country Music Hall of Fame at the same time.

Marty Stuart with wife Connie Smith in 2012 following the announcement of Smith entering the Country Music Hall of Fame as the Veterans Era inductee.
Photo Credit: John Russell/CMA

A music prodigy since childhood, Stuart set his career in motion as a preteen, mastering the mandolin by the age of 12 and convincing his parents to let him tour with bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Roland White. But Stuart manifested his destiny when he was 11. When Smith — one of his mother’s favorite singers — came to town to perform at the Choctaw Indian Fair, Stuart urged his mother to take him to the local department store to purchase a yellow shirt he hoped would catch Smith’s eye during the show. But it wasn’t the shirt that caught Smith’s attention when the two met that night. Smith watched as the young Stuart conversed with her steel guitar player Weldon Myrick onstage, asking intricate questions about the instrument far beyond his youthful years. “‘This kid has no bashful bone in his body. How does he, at this age, know all about this stuff?’” Smith recalls thinking at the time, the Country star posing for a photo with Stuart and his mother and sister after the show. “He told his momma that night that he was going to marry me someday,” Smith says with a laugh, a promise Stuart fulfilled 25 years later when the two reconnected in Nashville, tying the knot in 1997. “It didn’t take long,” Smith adds of falling for her husband while writing songs together as Stuart produced two of her albums. “He has such a great heart. I just fell in love with him.”

In Smith’s eyes, Stuart’s guiding light is his pure heart, which he matches with a “discerning spirit.” “One of his big sayings is ‘follow your heart.’ He’s learned through the years not to chase anything, but to follow his heart,” she observes. “He goes to the depths of his being when he’s doing something. He’s probably the bravest person I’ve ever known, and he is brave enough to bring it out, he’s brave enough to say it, brave enough to try it.”

To Smith, her husband’s heart has also shined through his countless displays of affection throughout their 24-year marriage, including homemade birthday and Valentine’s Day cards. She recalls a touching moment when the couple first started dating. As she was about to jet off to Norway to perform at the 1994 Winter Olympics, her future husband chivalrously insisted that she take his custom-made Manuel coat — along with a life-changing gift. “Before I got on the plane, he gave me this cassette tape and he said, ‘Don’t listen to it until you get on the plane.’ I was going over the ocean and I played that tape, and he had written me a song called ‘Think I’ll Fall in Love With You.’ That was a very beautiful and wonderful experience, and I did not know how he felt until he gave me that cassette,” reflects Smith. “That’s very precious to me.”

A significant part of Stuart’s legacy in both the Country and bluegrass music communities is the way he shares the genres with the world. His love for Country Music and its history is seen through his prominent commentary in the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music.” In addition to his role as a commentator, Smith shares, Stuart also had a hand in advising Burns on who he should interview for the expansive documentary. “He [Burns] got a lot of people he wouldn’t have gotten had he not talked with Marty,” she explains. Additionally, Stuart has long been a preserver of the genre, collecting more than 20,000 pieces of memorabilia, ranging from a leather train case formerly owned by Patsy Cline to uniforms worn by the Maddox Brothers. Stuart is currently building his Congress of Country Music, which is to be a cultural center in his hometown dedicated to the preservation and furtherance of Country Music.

Stuart is well-known for uniting artists across the musical spectrum. He has often invited bright-eyed children and up-and-coming musicians to perform onstage with him. Furthermore, he has established his dressing room as a common ground for musicians, a place where members of the Rolling Stones have chatted with Bill Monroe, and gospel singers have congregated with Country stars. They are all drawn together by that harmonious spirit that makes Stuart so worthy of a spot in the hallowed Hall.

“Marty is truly what they call a Renaissance man,” professes Smith. “For a while, I think he was one of God’s hidden weapons in the music industry. But he has become a statesman, and he’s one of the greatest promoters of Country Music that we’ve ever had. He belongs [in the Country Music Hall of Fame] because he has promoted Country Music and has heralded Country Music more than anybody I know. He’s preserved Country Music. He has that gift of reconciliation; he can bring things together that you would never think would meld. His heart is harmony among the music industry, harmony among people, harmony among groups, harmony between bluegrass and Country Music,” she proclaims, before hinting that Stuart is merely at the beginning of his self-fulfilling prophecy. “He’s just getting started.”