A handwritten card arrived the other day. As I pulled out the small, beige card, I noticed it had a Johnny Cash stamp on it.
I smiled when I saw the return address. It was thank you note from Don Reid for a gift we had made to his Sunday School class in memory of his brother, Harold, who had recently kept an appointment with the Lord.
The stamp, I knew, was a special nod of appreciation. Don and Harold, no more than mere boys, had been discovered by Cash who launched them toward a career that was more than stardom. It became legend and put them, along with group mates Phil Balsley, Lew DeWitt and Jimmy Fortune, in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Don has written a new book which I had the privilege of reading while it was still a manuscript. I enjoyed it so much I read it a second time, something I rarely do. It’s called The Music of the Statler Brothers: An Anthology. It has the story behind, literally (a word rarely used correctly these days), every song the group recorded in its career. Hundreds of them.
As a writer and lover of stories, I am always fascinated by what inspires storytellers. While Don and Harold wrote many songs together — and never had a disagreement between them — Don wrote a good many by himself. Most extraordinarily, he kept impeccable files that have the dates the songs were written, what inspired them, the dates of the recordings, and which musicians played on the sessions. It’s a historical tip of the hat that will be appreciated by fans of the Statlers’ music and those who love a good story.
Like the night that Harold reached down from the stage to shake hands and one woman asked, “Do you know ‘You Are My Sunshine’”? She was asking for the old song made famous by Jimmy Davis before he became governor of Louisiana. Harold, who had a keen ear for a clever line, heard something else. As soon as the group left the stage, he said to Don, “Let’s go to the bus now. I’ve got an idea for a song.”
In a short spit of time, the brothers wrote a number one hit, “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine?”
The book is published by Mercer University Press in Macon, Georgia, a publisher which I greatly respect. In fact, I consider Mercer to be one of the best publishers in the business today because its catalog is wide and varied. Whenever the Mercer catalog arrives in the mail, I sit down and study it because of the subjects and authors who include revered writer Terry Kay.
Thanks to the folks at Mercer publishing, there is a book called The Voice of An American Playwright that includes transcripts of many interviews given by Horton Foote, one of my favorite writers. It’s insightful and, to be honest, I learned a thing or two about storytelling from the book.
The Brothers Mankiewicz is published by another excellent university press, University of Mississippi, which is funded by eight Mississippi colleges. This tome about brothers Herman and Joe, who wrote, produced, and directed over 150 movies is a gem for movie lovers. It is part of their Hollywood Legends Series of which I could recommend several books including a biography on Clifton Webb.
What large New York publishers might have disregarded, Mercer and the University of Mississippi presses have been wise enough to print, knowing there is an audience who wants to read the life stories of those who conjure up magic with their words.
I find it particularly interesting to see how families can have so much talent and how brothers like the Reids and the Mankiewiczs have given us stories that will last through generations.
Thank you, Mercer and Ole Miss.
•Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Let Me Tell You Something. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.