From his boyhood days performing here, Marty Stuart displayed singular zest for every flavor of country music. Beginning as a teenage mandolin player with Lester Flatt, he became an ebullient Grand Ole Opry star, “hillbilly rock” hitmaker, accomplished songwriter, multi-instrumentalist bandleader, and country artifact collector. With a musical missionary’s zeal and a bold showman’s style, Stuart committed himself both to preserving country’s history and contributing to its future.
Born in Philadelphia on September 30, 1958, (John) Marty Stuart was at age ten fronting the Musical Rangers, a honky tonk guitar band that sometimes played on this square. Stuart even offered the local press a headline: “Local boy sings country songs in a Beatles society.” Later, as an established star, Stuart often noted that the country, rock, gospel, blues, and Choctaw musical streams that converged in Neshoba County formed a rich pool of inspiration from which his eclectic repertoire would always be drawn.
After his musical debut touring with the Sullivan Family Gospel Singers, Stuart was invited to join the legendary Lester Flatt’s traditional bluegrass band, the Nashville Grass. Stuart left for Nashville on Labor Day, 1972, not quite fourteen years old, and was Flatt’s boy wonder mandolin player until Flatt’s death in 1979. Stints working with two other masters—fiddler Vassar Clements and guitar picker/vocalist Doc Watson—followed, and during the years 1980-’85 Stuart was the electric guitar-slinger in Johnny Cash’s hot back-up band.
An award-winning instrumentalist, a distinctive country vocalist, and a songwriter who could spin contemporary tales in traditional country modes, Stuart had two solo albums out by the late 1980s, the first saluting the Busy Bee Café that once operated not far from this site. He then emerged as a uniquely flamboyant star in country’s generally restrained, roots-minded “New Traditionalist” movement. His string of hits with the major MCA label included “Tempted,” “Now That’s Country,” “ Little Things,” hit duets with Travis Tritt (“Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You”), and the smash that named his exciting new party sound, “Hillbilly Rock.”
He was inducted as a Grand Ole Opry cast member in 1992. As his career matured, on the Opry stage and beyond, Marty Stuart actively upheld country music’s history and traditions while easing it into a new century. “Traditional country music is the empowering force in our genre,” he said. “It’s my legacy; it’s who I am. A lot of what I do is about not letting something great slip away.”
In keeping with that goal, Stuart produced albums for country legends Johnny Cash and Porter Wagoner, headed a versatile country touring band, and featured traditional country on television and radio series. He recorded bluegrass, honky tonk, gospel, and ambitious original albums while avidly collecting and publicly displaying precious country music memorabilia and publishing a collection of his photographic portraits of country legends. Stuart’s regular efforts to spotlight Mississippi culture included early support for establishing the Mississippi Country Music Trail.
content © Mississippi Country Music Trail
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