As I stop by today to wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving, I want to share with you one of my most special blessings of the season.
And that’s my friendship with Jean Shepard.
This past Saturday night on stage at the Ryman Auditorium, I had the pleasure….and honor….of recognizing Jean’s 82nd birthday, her 47th wedding anniversary, and her 60th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Unbelievable that those three milestones all occurred on the same day.
I first met Jean in the mid-fifties when she came to Athens, Georgia, for a concert with Little Jimmy Dickens, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Del Wood. I took my tape recorder backstage and interviewed her, the very first interview I ever did with an Opry star. I never dreamed that just a few years later I would be an Opry member myself and Jean would be the featured female vocalist on my television show.
We went on to tour together countless times, she recorded an entire album of songs that I wrote, and I grew to treasure her not only as an artist but as a trusted friend.
As many of you know, Jean has been in declining health recently, and was on a hiatus from the Opry. It took all the strength she could muster to come to the Ryman this past weekend and let her friends and fans shower her with the love that she deserves.
I learned that Jean specifically asked to be on the portion of the show that I was hosting. What a thrill it was to share that special moment alongside her, and to even join her in performing her first million-selling song, “A Dear John Letter.”
As I told the audience, there was a time when Kitty Wells and Jean Shepard were the only female stars in country music. All the Reba’s and Dolly’s and Martina’s and Miranda’s that have come along since have those two ladies to thank for blazing the trail that made their careers possible.
I stopped by Jean’s dressing room afterward, and, other than inside a floral shop, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many flowers in one room in my life…..tokens of love and admiration and appreciation sent in recognition of her lifetime of music and entertainment.
I’ve got so much to be thankful for here at Thanksgiving, but nothing more than my years of knowing and loving Jean Shepard.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Shep,” and to each of you as well. May God continue to watch over and bless us all.