Fans, Family Celebrate Tammy Wynette At ‘Remembering Tammy’

Long before it was called the CMA Music Festival, the event that brought tens of thousands to Nashville this week was called Fan Fair. Though just like today, fans traveled to the city in search of a precious few moments of quality time with their favorite singers – it was a much different time.

Conway Twitty welcomed his fans to Twitty City, his home complex just north of town. Reba McEntire once threw open the doors to her restaurant adjacent to Opryland. And, then there was Tammy Wynette. Members of her fan club actually could step inside her estate on Franklin Road for a get-together with food prepared by the “First Lady of Country Music” herself.

Jackie Daly, one of Tammy’s daughters, told Sounds Like Nashville that it was a very special time – for her fans, as well as the singer.

“She loved it,” Daly recalled. “She was a people person. She loved to cook, and her fans were her extended family. She loved to socialize. She wasn’t shy, and she just loved it. It was a lot of fun, and it’s something she enjoyed a lot.”

Photo courtesy David Perry

Photo courtesy David Perry

Nearly two decades after the singer’s passing, the impact of her life and music is still felt by her legion of fans – many of whom made the pilgrimage to Nashville this past week for Remembering Tammy: The Gathering, a multi-day long series of events designed to pay tribute to the Country Music Hall of Fame member.

Daly said that it was a weekend to remember for everyone involved. For her, the interest in her mother’s career comes as a total surprise. “I’m dumbfounded. When Karen Butcher came to me with the idea of doing The Gathering, I thought that after all these years, nobody is going to care. But, they do. It’s a testament to her legacy. I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s very emotional. There were times this weekend where I broke down, but I feel an obligation to do it,” she says emotionally.

Wynette’s fans were in great abundance for the three-day event. Thursday, they travelled to Red Bay, Alabama – the singer’s hometown. Friday, Daly hosted a brunch at her house, and on Saturday, her fans went aboard the General Jackson showboat for a luncheon cruise that gave fans a chance to reminisce with each other about Wynette.

One such fan was Fran Maxwell, who had fond memories of the first time she heard a Tammy Wynette song. “I was dating this guy, and we would get in his car, and there would be this cassette tape of hers. I just started to collect her albums, and it just resonated,” she said, adding that the emotion in her voice simply drew her in. “At that time in my life, I was kind of sad, and her songs were sad. I just fell in love with her voice each time that I heard her. The lady where I ordered a lot of albums told me I needed to get involved with her fan club. I did that in 1977, and was in it until 2001,” she said.

Of the fan club parties at Wynette’s home, Maxwell said she pulled out all the stops to make it to Tennessee.

“It was so exciting. I remember getting the letter saying I had been invited to her house, and I didn’t believe it. I kept trying to find a way to Nashville because I didn’t drive. Some people that I waited on told me that they would take me,” she recalls fondly.

Photo courtesy David Perry

Photo courtesy David Perry

Also present at The Gathering was Scotty Kennedy of the Red Bay Civitan Club, who is also heavily involved with the city’s museum – which features many mementos and artifacts from Wynette’s career. He can also settle something that is of great discussion among fans of Wynette’s in the Alabama – Mississippi area: Where was she from?

“She was born and raised, and went to school in Mississippi. There’s Red Bay, Alabama and there’s Tremont, Mississippi. In between, there’s a place called Bound’s Crossroad. That’s where she went to school until the seventh grade. She would say her hometown was Red Bay. That’s where she would go to shop, to the doctor, and to the movies. It was the closest town she lived to, and it was right on the state line. She would joke that her top half was from Mississippi, and her bottom half was from Alabama,” he joked, adding that “I think her grandfather owned land in both.” Kennedy expressed hope that next year, The Gathering could be held in Red Bay, giving her fans a chance to see where Wynette grew up.

One person that just might be making that trip is Martha Dettwiller, a longtime friend of the singer who shared many close moments with Wynette. “Mostly, we were just girlfriends. That’s what we were. We shared a lot of husband problems, children problems, and we also had a lot of the same interests. We were both from the same area, and both knew about Cornbread, Peas, country food, and we talked about food a lot. She cooked for me quite a bit, and it was just like your grandmother would have made.”

In fact, food plays into one of Dettwiller’s fondest memories of the singer. “One year, she called me up and said ‘Martha, I’m in Heart of Wales, and I’m on tour. It’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’ve decided to give the crew dinner. Could you fly over here and bring two pounds of corn meal? I said ‘Well, yeah, I guess so.’ It was about a week from Thanksgiving. I told her I would put it in the suitcase right away. She also needed cranberries. So, I got them and flew over….with it in my suitcase! When I got there, she had made up the menu, and had decided that we were going to go shopping at the grocery store there. She had a limousine, and also had a chauffeur. We all dressed up and got in this Rolls Royce limo, and we went to the grocery store.”

But, there was an unexpected problem. “She got there, and couldn’t find sweet potatoes. But, we did find African Yams. However, they are white. When you cook them, they taste like sweet potatoes, but they are going to be white. She said I can’t make sweet potato pie out of white sweet potatoes. Then…she said ‘food coloring,’ so she got some red and yellow coloring, put it together, and made orange. So, we had orange sweet potato pies. She served each and every person – about forty people – with her own two hands. It was a really sweet episode. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was well worth the packing of the corn meal,” she says with a smile.

Dettwiller didn’t try to break down Wynette’s appeal as a singer, but she recalled that she had a heart of gold. “She was just real. I don’t know what everybody perceived, but I think she was the same most all the time unless she was sick or had a tragedy going on. She was sweet, she was kind – she was endearingly kind. She never met a stranger. She remembered people she loved, she remembered their birthdays, to think about them at Christmas-time. She always remembered her fans. She would call so many of them on their birthdays. She was really a loyal friend.”

But, to Daly, she was Mom. Sharing her mother with the world is something that Jackie Daly takes pride in – and she hopes that legend grows and grows.

“That’s what I’m concerned about – her music. I really wish that young people today would take the opportunity to listen to Mom’s music. I just wish that more young people knew Mom’s music. I think that they would enjoy it as much as everyone else does.” What are Daly’s favorite songs of her mother’s? Two songs that quickly came to mind are 1976’s “Till I Can Make It On My Own,” as well as the relatively obscure 1987 album cut (from Higher Ground) “I Wasn’t Meant To Live My Life Alone,” which featured Vince Gill on harmony.