Roy Acuff. I think it would be very appropriate if all of us would sing "Happy Birthday" to Mrs. Nixon, but I won't be imposing if, should I ask you, Mr. President, will you please play the piano for us?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, in this very professional company, I am a little embarrassed to try to do that thing there. I haven't even learned to play this thing. It is a Yo-Yo.1
In the key of G.
[The President played "Happy Birthday" on the piano.]
1At this point, the President took a Yo-Yo from his pocket and handed it to Mr. Acuff, a country music entertainer who was known for doing tricks with a Yo-Yo during his performances.
Just so that you will know--as you know, my wife's name is Pat, and her father was Irish, and he called her "St. Patrick's babe in the morning," so she always celebrates her birthday on St. Patrick's Day.
So, I can't play this song at all, but these fellows know it in the key of G, also. That is the only key I know, incidentally.
So, if you will join us in this song, I think you will recognize it when I start it. Just let me get a chord.
[The President played "My Wild Irish Rose."]
MR. ACUFF. He is a real trouper, as well as one of our finest Presidents. You are a great man. We love you.
Along with every dedication there are certain businesses to tend to, so we are going to tend to the business right now, as a country boy would put it. So, I am going to invite the President and Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Dorothy Ritter 2 and Mr. Bill Weaver, who is chairman of the board of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, if they will join me over here at the scroll and let's unveil the scroll.
2 Widow of country and western entertainer Tex Ritter.
Mr. President and Mrs. Nixon, Dorothy, and Mr. Weaver, will you please join me over at the scroll.
[At this point, a scroll dedicating the new Grand Ole Opry House was unveiled.]
THE PRESIDENT. It must be time for the commercial. [Laughter]
MR. ACUFF. Ladies and gentlemen, about a year ago I was invited to the White House, along with many others, to entertain the prisoners of war. And after I had sung my song, Mr. Bob Hope, who was the master of ceremonies, asked me back to the stage, and I remarked that it was the highlight of my career.
But you know, I never dreamed that a night like this would ever come to Roy Acuff.
So, I would like to say to the world that is listening in, from our new home here in Opryland USA, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Richard Nixon.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much, Roy Acuff and to all of our distinguished guests, the Governors, the Senators, the Congressmen--and everybody, of course, in this audience is distinguished on this first-nighter for the opening of the Grand Ole Opry in its new home.
I find it very difficult to find the adequate words to say what this particular evening means to me personally and, of course, to my wife Pat. But one thing that Governor Dunn was telling me was that people come, he said, from hundreds of miles--he says, as a matter of fact, they come from all over America--just to be here at the Grand Ole Opry performances.
I think tonight a record has been established, because my wife left Brasilia 9 hours ago. She flew 5,000 miles to get here. And Howard Baker tells me that they have a Grand Ole Opry House now in London, right out at the airport, called "Nashville," so it has reached there. We will be exporting it to other places, I am sure. I mean, somebody was telling me that there is only one thing stronger than country moonshine and that is country music.
I saw a couple of fellows outside that were combining the two, and believe me, it was plenty strong.
Speaking in a very serious vein, though, I want all of our friends here in this opening night, and those listening on radio and television, to know what country music has meant to America and, I think, also to the world.
First, country music is American. It started here, it is ours. It isn't something that we learned from some other nation, it isn't something that we inherited, because we Americans, of course, come from all over the world, in a sense. And so, it is as native as anything American we could find.
Country music also has a magnificent appeal all across the country. It is not regional. Before we had country music at the White House--and you know we brought it there on many occasions--we had some very sophisticated audiences there listening to the great stars, opera stars and all that sort of thing, and then Johnny Cash came and he was a big hit at the White House, and Merle Haggard came and he was a big hit at the White House--[applause]--go ahead, go ahead, he is probably listening--and Glenn Campbell, Roy Acuff.
Let me tell you something about that POW night. We had some fine Hollywood stars, you know, singing some of the more modern music that is--well, it is a little hard to understand. I mean, well, I was going to say a moment ago, you have a tendency to pay a little more attention to what the girls are not wearing than hearing the music, but you did a little of that tonight here, too, I can see. But she could sing, she could sing.
But I wanted to tell you something, that I was sitting at that historic evening when these magnificent men who had served the United States in Vietnam and who had been prisoners of war were being entertained at the White House--the largest dinner ever held at the White House--and I was sitting at a table with six of them and their wives.
All six of them had been in prison for 6 years or more, and all of these stars went on, the modem stars and the older stars and the rest, and the new types of music and the rest. The one that got the biggest applause was Roy Acuff.
And I asked one of them, I said, "You know, that is rather curious that you would find that music the one you liked the best." And they said, "Well, you have got to understand, we understood it." They knew it. In other words, it went back a few years, but they understood it, and it touched them and touched them deeply after that long time away from America.
What country music is, is that first it comes from the heart of America, because this is the heart of America, out here in Middle America. Second, it relates to those experiences that mean so much to America. It talks about family, it talks about religion, the faith in God that is so important to our country and particularly to our family life. And as we all know, country music radiates a love of this Nation, patriotism.
Country music, therefore, has those combinations which are so essential to America's character at a time that America needs character, because today--one serious note let me tell you, the peace ,of the world for generations, maybe centuries to come, will depend not just on America's military might, which is the greatest in the world, or our wealth, which is the greatest in the world, but it is going to depend on our character, our belief in ourselves, our love of our country, our willingness to not only wear the flag but to stand up for the flag. And country music does that.
And so, I express appreciation to this great audience, to all the performers whose time I have taken--my apologies to those who would have had the commercial. However, I wanted to take this opportunity on behalf of all the American people to thank country music, those who have created it, those who make it, those who now will have it continue in the future, for what it does to make America a better country, because your music does make America better. It is good for Americans to hear it. We come away better from having heard it.
Thank you very much.
MR. ACUFF [handing the President a Yo-Yo]. Now let it come over this way. Hold your hand like this. [Laughter] We are not in any hurry. He don't need to get back up there quick anyway. [Laughter] We need him down here for a while.
Now, turn your hand over and let it ride. Now jerk it back.
THE PRESIDENT. I will stay here and try to learn how to use the Yo-Yo; you go up and be President, Roy.
MR. AGUFF. That is just what it takes to be a great President, is to come among people and be among we working people, we common people, and then be one of us. That is what it takes to be a real President.
This is the one he gave me. He didn't know it worked that way. Would everybody join me, and come on, Jerry Waters, sit down at the piano there. I want all the gang together, and let's everybody sing, and from our very real hearts, let's sing "Stay A Little Longer" to the President, will you.
[The audience sang "Stay A Little Longer."]
That a boy, thank you. Thank you very much. It is such a wonderful program. We will never see nothing like this in our State again, never have before.
Mr. President, do you belong to the union, the musicians union? You will get some talk on this if you don't. Come on up here. I want you to take the piano.
THE PRESIDENT. I am an honorary member of the musicians union in New York City.
MR. AGUFF. That is great. There will be no argument.
THE PRESIDENT. No, but I don't pay dues.
MR. ACUFF. He says he is an honorary member of the union in New York City.
THE PRESIDENT. Roy, because of the remarks that I made, it occurred to me that what would be most appropriate at this time on this opening evening--and you still can play in the key of G?
MR. Acuff. Yes.
THE PRESIDENT. Okay, fine. You will know this song when I start playing it--I think they will know it when I start playing it. [Laughter] But anyway, you remember on that prisoners-of-war affair, that dinner, that one of the highlights was when Irving Berlin, who had been very ill, came down and brought the original score of the great song that he wrote that everybody sings since then
MR. Acuff. Yes, I remember.
THE PRESIDENT.--"God Bless America."
MR. Acuff. Yes, I remember.
THE PRESIDENT. I thought possibly we would try that one.
MR. ACUFF. Oh, do, that would be great. "God Bless America."
[The President played "God Bless America" on the piano.]