Hall Hosts Grand Opening of Chet Atkins Exhibit

(L-R): Steve Wariner, Fred Gretsch, Merle Russell and Kyle Young. Photo: Donn Jones

Steve Wariner, one of only a few Atkins-anointed Certified Guitar Players, gave a lively musical tribute. Photo: Christie King

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled its Chet Atkins exhibition last night (8/10) to a group of industry tastemakers, sponsors, and the late guitar-great’s descendants including daughter Merle Russell.

Museum Director Kyle Young welcomed guests in the Ford Theater. “Chet was always a supportive friend of this institution,” he said. “He was also one of country music’s ultimate renaissance men, one of the greatest instrumentalists in American music history, and a true musical savant. We are truly honored to tell his story, one we know will resonate with country fans old and new.”

Fred Gretsch and members of his family were there to help salute Atkins’ history with their guitar company dating back to 1954. Mr. Gretsch recalled George Harrison’s admiration of the Country Gentleman, and also brought onstage Atkins’ teary-eyed friend, Paul Yandell. The instrument manufacturer provided generous support of the new exhibit.

Photo: Christie King

Upstairs guests got the first look of Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player. Classic guitars take center stage in the exhibition which tells the remarkable story of Atkins’ rise from near-poverty in Luttrell, Tennessee to acclaimed musician. Included is his first guitar, a Sears Silvertone he acquired at age 11 and upon which he taught himself to play; and his 1938 Gibson L-10 designed for original owner Les Paul.

At a very early age, Atkins set his mind to becoming a famous guitar player. He was a shy boy, who moved as a child to Columbus, Georgia where the climate eased his asthma. It was there that he got his first radio gig. By age 18 he was earning a living as a musician.

Photo: Christie King

The exhibit highlights his signature thumb-and-two-finger picking style, developed while trying to emulate Merle Travis. It covers his 1950 move to Nashville as the guitar player for Maybelle and the Carter Sisters.

Guitars, contracts and letters show his progress over the next several decades. There is a 1951 photograph of Atkins playing alongside Hank Williams at the Grand Ole Opry.

One highlight is the meticulous re-construction of the work-bench and shelves in Atkins’ basement home studio, including tools, cameras, hats, guitar straps, and golf clubs.

There are a few video clips, but missing in this smaller exhibit are some of the interactive, multimedia components that made the Hall’s Williams Family exhibition so successful.

Atkins’ storied career criss-crossed from A-Team studio work, to artist, producer, and record executive. He played on recordings by Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. His first hit as an artist came in 1955 with “Mister Sandman.” As a producer, he was a key architect of the Nashville Sound, and worked with the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings and Jim Reeves. Atkins was elected to the hallowed Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, and before dying in 2001, he received a NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award.

Downstairs in the conservatory, CPG (certified party goers) enjoyed the night’s signature mango cocktail while munching on hors d’oeuvres and mini desserts.

Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player officially opens tomorrow (8/12) with special events throughout the weekend. Details at countrymusichalloffame.org.

(L-R): Steve Wariner, Earl Klugh, Reggie Young, Duane Eddy, James Burton, Scotty Moore, Paul Yandell, Ben Hall and Mark Pritcher, Pres. of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. Photo: Donn Jones.


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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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