Included in the $196-million bond bill that awaits Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature is funding to advance a proposed Marty Stuart museum.
Stuart, a Philadelphia native, has long been recognized as one of traditional country music’s leading performers and preservationists.
His Sparkle and Twang memorabilia collection has been displayed across the U.S., including a recent stint in Meridian.
The museum ostensibly would serve as a permanent home for the collection, and would be East Mississippi’s answer to Sunflower County’s B.B. King Museum, said Sid Salter, Mississippi State spokesperson who serves on the museum’s board of directors.
“The intent of the Legislature was to see the local folks get some fundraising done, organization done, and then to put up some money to bolster that and to step up behind it,” Salter said in an interview this week. “What I’ve heard out of legislators is that the Legislature wanted to partner on this, but they had to see some movement locally, and I think toward the end of the session, they felt like Marty Stuart himself had personally stepped up on this. There’s still a lot of work to be done all around, but this is an excellent first step toward getting this done. You’ve got a lot of folks kind of at the table in Neshoba County.”
That includes former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat and Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Chief Phyllis Anderson, both of whom Salter singled out as having taken an active role in the private efforts to move the museum forward.
For the Stuart museum to be as successful as the King museum, it has to have what Salter called “a consistent draw. And the one thing Marty brings to the table is that he’s had such a consistent role in preservation.”
Stuart has spent his career, which started when he left Philadelphia in his early teens for Nashville, collecting and preserving country music artifacts, ranging from clothing worn by Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner to Gene Autry’s cowboy boots. Stuart’s collection is considered the largest outside of Nashville’s County Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“It’s a classic story of a little boy leaving home and chasing his dream at a great cost,” Salter said of Stuart’s career. “He lost a lot of his childhood to that. The fact that Marty never lost the connection with home speaks volumes. He didn’t start trying to reconnect with home after 50. He maintained a constant contact with home, and I think that’s why local people have embraced this idea. He’s been the leading preservationist of real bedrock country music. But another thing he’s done is give everything he could give back to Neshoba County and East Mississippi.
“If all of those forces can come together, I think you’ll have a great facility not only for Mississippi but the nation as a whole. (The Mississippi County Music) trail concept can be realized with this. I feel good about this.”
Having the money available meant a bond bill making its way through the same political hurdles present in the 2012 session, when leadership in the House and Senate were unable to agree on one. It was the first session in several a bond bill had not been approved.
With the money in hand, Salter said the agenda for the next board meeting would be to start figuring out exactly what the money will fund.
“The board has been involved primarily to listen and contribute toward broad stroke concepts about how this can and should work, and obviously our work will intensify as we move toward getting this from the drawing board to reality.”
David Vowell, president of the Philadelphia Community Development Partnership, said his agency is currently conducting an economic impact study with assistance from IHL. He said the results should be available within a couple weeks. The bond money could be potentially be used to conduct a similar study as planning moves forward, Vowell said.
“We’re still in the early stages of this,” he said.