This year’s SOURCE Hall of Fame induction ceremony will mark the organization’s 25th year anniversary celebration and will be held Aug. 23 at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum at the Historic Municipal Auditorium.
MusicRow sat down with longtime hosts of the annual gala event, Opry legend Jeannie Seely and Country Music Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee, to discuss the importance of sisterhood and supporting women executives and professionals who work in the Nashville music industry.
MusicRow: Since you two have hosted this gala for many years, how would you describe your friendship with each other?
Jeannie Seely: Oh my goodness. My friendship with Brenda is one of the treasures in my life. I was a fan of hers back when I grew up in Pennsylvania and I first knew of Brenda Lee on The Red Foley Show. She was such an inspiration because I was just a kid with dreams of being a singer and songwriter. Here was somebody who was proving you could do it even that young. I really don’t remember where we first met but it’s like our friendship has always been there. You know how easy it is to get to know Brenda Lee? If you’re with her two minutes, you’re friends. She does that for you.
Brenda Lee: Jeannie’s like me. She’s an open book. You don’t have to guess. You don’t have to think. She says what she means and she means what she says. She’s a kind person that knows this industry inside out and she knows more than I do. She knows the female vocalist side of it and she knows the business side of it like Dolly does. I’m one of those people that like to do the creative part and then let someone that I trust do the business side. My mind doesn’t work that way and I respect people like Jeannie and Dolly and girls that can do it. So I’m attracted to her because she’s who she is. I think the best thing is that she loves what she does and you can always tell that. You can tell that in an artist. Some artists don’t and we know that when the bells and whistles stop, they don’t especially like what they’re doing.
So Jeannie, as an artist, how did you also learn the business side of the music industry?
Seely: I worked for Liberty Records in Los Angeles as what they call a floating secretary, which meant I got every grungy job there was. What they didn’t know is that I was giving myself a great education. In every area they put me in, I dug through those files and read everything I could read. It probably took me longer to file things than anybody in history because I read all the contracts. It was a great learning experience. I knew the pressures and the “I want it yesterday” demands. Like a lot of the early SOURCE honorees have experienced, those were the days of the old typewriter and the carbon copy and correction. When there was some small change, you had to start all over again. It is a wonder, truly, that I didn’t kill some of those people because I certainly wished them an early death when they would change something just so they had contributed to it. It’s like, “Come on. I might have gotten here yesterday but I learned quickly and I know what you’re doing.” I also understood how they covered for their bosses. I covered for my boss when he was at the racetrack and he sometimes had to share his winnings if I had to cover him really big. (laughs)
And that’s why the SOURCE Hall of Fame is important to you because you know what it takes behind the scenes?
Seely: Exactly. I have an admiration for these women that maybe a lot of people from a different perspective wouldn’t have. I also learned from other artists in our industry. I learned what their managers did for them, what their managers told them and I absorbed it all.
What advice would you give women in our industry who are starting out and have aspirations of one day being a SOURCE Hall of Fame honoree?
Seely: I would say learn everything you can from these people. Every one of these women are brave mentors and most importantly, they’re willing to mentor the young people. That’s the key. As an artist, I had people help me and were happy to mentor me.
Lee: I remember when LeAnn Rimes’ mother came to me when LeAnn had the successful song, “Blue.” We did a show together and I’m saying this from a child’s standpoint because I was a child when I started in this industry. She asked me what should she do? I said first you need to let her go to school, and by go to school, I mean go to school, a public school. Get that experience. She can still work. I did on the weekends. I went all over the world, went to school, graduated from high school and was on the debating team. I was a cheerleader with Rita Coolidge, my great friend, who by the way has a great book out. We love her. Get that education and, as Judy Garland once told me sitting poolside at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, don’t let anyone take your childhood away. I’ll always remember that. And that goes back to having people around you that treat you as a person and not as a product. If you do that, then you’ve hit a home run.
Why was it important for both of you to participate in SOURCE?
Lee: I think Jeannie and I both know because we’re women. As my mother-in-law used to say, “When you need a job done, get a lady,” and sometimes the ladies behind the scenes don’t get the recognition nor do they expect it, which is a wonderful thing that they deserve. SOURCE is a way to say to them, “Thank you. We know who you are. We know what you have contributed and we know what that contribution morphed into.” It’s just our little way of saying thank you.
Seely: I would also interject to these young women coming into the business, to treat that artist as a friend, as a person, not as a product, not as just a tool, and they will appreciate you more. It’s a mutual respect for what we do.
Lee: You need to love the person and let them know that they’re loved and no matter if they are number one, number 10, number 40 or number 50. You will always have a relationship and you will do well. You may not be hot forever but you will have a place in the industry that you love. Jeannie will agree with that. You can’t always be number one. That’s why there’s numbers under it.
What you have learned as artists in this industry also applies to the people who work behind the scenes, don’t you think?
Seely: It’s hard for us to talk other than from the perspective as entertainers because that’s been our lives, but what Brenda said applies exactly to these women in SOURCE. They learn that very early. It is important to connect. Networking among women is the most prized thing you can have and one of the most valuable. Reaching out to people is how it works.
You two seem to genuinely enjoy this evening each year honoring SOURCE women, don’t you?
Seely: Yes, and thank goodness for Charlie Monk, I get to pick on him. When you lose your place, just pick on Charlie. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. (laughs)
Lee: Ain’t that the truth!? (laughs) And you know the wonderful thing about SOURCE is seeing the faces on these women who are getting honored because they never thought it would happen. And they all know each other’s history, every one of them. They didn’t study it when they heard they were getting the award. They lived it. It’s a very small field these women are in.
Seely: Right. That’s such a wonderful thing. While one woman is being honored I love to look at the other women because they are so into it. They truly all get choked up living that moment with them. It’s like the sisterhood between the artists and I see it among the SOURCE women as well.
Lee: It’s important to have that sisterhood because you learn very early as an artist you can’t take anything personal onto that stage. You’ve got to have somebody to talk to.
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