Country music’s Crystal Gayle became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on January 21, of this year, an honor that most thought was long overdue. She wasn’t upset that the award was probably deserved years and years ago, she was just happy to be included in this “family” of country’s best artists extending back more than nine decades—a family that already included her sister, country legend Loretta Lynn.
What made the evening even more memorable for her was she received her award from Lynn.
“We’ve been together a long time, honey,” Lynn said during the evening, “and we’ve never had a fight. It was the greatest moment of my life when they made me a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1962. I know she is just as happy as I was then.”
“Being a member of the Opry is just incredible,” Gayle replied. “It’s really hard to comprehend. I have felt like a part of the Opry for all these years. Now, I’m official.”
Gayle’s easy going manner and ability to find humor all around her has endured her to the many fans she has accumulated over the years. Sure, that powerful voice of hers had a hand in getting everyone’s attention, but it has been her sincerity and genuine demeanor that has kept people returning time and time again to her shows and continuing to buy her music. (And if you’re lucky enough to be included in a meet and greet after the show, everybody gets a hug, too). She is every bit as sweet as her voice.
She has accomplished a lot since her Opry debut 50 years ago. From humble beginnings to stardom, her journey is part and parcel to who she is. From homemade dresses to Halston gowns; from standing in the shadows of her famous sister and far behind the lead mic as a backup singer, to standing ovations.
In 1977, her “coming out” party into the light occurred when she struck gold…or platinum is more like it…with her fourth album, We Must Believe in Magic. On that release was the song, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”
Gayle followed that successful album with another platinum album, When I Dream, which contained the song “Talking In Your Sleep,” that became Billboard’s most played country song in 1978.
The awards, the career and the appearances on national TV followed. She continued to record over the intervening years and continues to record today.
Her career includes 20 No. 1 hits, six albums certified gold by the RIAA and she is the first female country artist to reach platinum sales with that first album. Her list of platinum and gold was to be matched only by her awards and accolades.
The list of her awards is crazy long. These include, but not limited to— CMA’s “Female Vocalist of the Year,” for two consecutive years; a Grammy Award winner for “Best Female Vocal Performance” for “Brown Eyes”; three Academy of Country Music Awards as “Top Female Vocalist”; three “American Music Awards”; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and just last year, she received the Academy of Country Music Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award during the 10th Annual ACM Honors.
We caught up with Crystal Gayle via a phone interview last week. Here’s her take on…
First, congratulations on being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Did you think it was a long time coming?
Gayle: Well, thank you. It was a special night. I look at it like I’ve always felt I was a member of the Opry family anyway and I never felt slighted. I think they probably just thought, “well, we thought she already was a member.” It is done in different ways and it was so sweet that my sister Loretta came to do it. It was just a special night.
You and your sisters have always been close…during the Opry award presentation, Loretta said you guys have never had a fight. What is your secret?
Gayle: We’ll disagree on things, but we’re not fighting. Like one will say, “I want to do this song, this way or that way,” but no, we’ve never had anything that would be a fight. Even with my other sisters, Betty and Peggy, we never really had any problems. Each of us is strong in our own ways. We each realize that and let each other be and have their thoughts about something—and then you have yours.
Maybe Americans should act as brothers and sisters?
Gayle: As long as you can listen to their side but you’re not arguing. I think America would be better off if they thought of how to better deal with their arguments. It’s ridiculous. It’s really sad to see how people are reacting—from both Democrats and Republicans. It’s like, “people put him (Trump) in there, so we should actually give him a chance.” They have to attack everything he does. It’s awful.
I think it goes back to TV in general and Hollywood—of all those reality shows and everything that’s on television that is so out there in different ways. We’ve made it a reality world, America. It’s just that I wish people would not be that way. I wish they would just get along. Put on some music instead of CNN and FOX and all these things. Music still heals, you know. I’m glad I’m in music.
Do you have any special memories of past performances at the Opry that you can share?
Gayle: Well, my very first memory is the first time I performed there. My sister Loretta was sick and was going to be on the Opry. Her husband, Mooney, must have talked them into it, but they let me go on and sing a song in her place. I sang “Ribbon of Darkness,” which Marty Robbins had a No. 1 with, and later, Connie Smith had a No. 1 with it, too. But I can see that moment now. When they inducted me as a member, I had brought the dress I wore that my mother had made. I still have it. It’s a little silver shiny dress and it’s still in style. I wish I could fit into it—maybe I could get one leg in it or something. I just remember doing that performance—of course. I was really scared, but it was incredible to be able to be there and be a part of it. So I’ve been with them for many years.
Any new projects in the works?
Gayle: I’m releasing an album of country classics that was going to come out in the fall—which because of the election, I wanted to postpone because of too much craziness. So it’s gonna come out any time now. It’s been a project of love. I got to work with my son Chris in the studio to teach him about real country music. It’s a collection of the songs I grew up with singing and loving. It’s just a good process with him. I haven’t done that in a while, so it’s been a lot fun.
It was going to be named You Don’t Know Me after one of the songs on the album, but I think maybe I’m gonna go back to the title, Singing Country Classics because that tells what it is.
Is there one song that means the most to you?
Gayle: I guess “Ribbon of Darkness” has a special place because it’s the first one I sang at the Opry. I did, “Am I That Easy to Forget?,” which was a Jim Reeves song. I was at the Opry many times with my sister and brother Jay lee and I got to see Jim Reeves. So I have special memories. He could sing, couldn’t he?
Of all the awards, accolades and accomplishments is there one of which you are particularly proud?
Gayle: Oh my, I’m proud of all of them—the Female Vocalist awards, the “Jukebox” awards I would get for “Most Played,”—the Billboard awards—all the things through the years. They’re all special. Actually, becoming a member of the Opry, that’s really extra special. It’s probably more special now than it would have been if I was younger, because I think I was far too busy to even realize things, so it’s really super special. I’m glad they decided to do it no matter how late it was.
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” was a serious game-changer for you.
Gayle: When “Brown Eyes” hit, even though I already had some records out before that, it was non-stop and you just sort of get caught up in everything. I had to turn down so many things—a lot of television specials I would have loved to have done. I did so many, but I had to turn down a bunch I really wanted to do. But, you know, there’s only one of me.
What are your thoughts on some of the female country artists out there now? Any standouts in your mind?
Gayle: There’s so many out there now. Kelsea Ballerini is really good, and she’s sweet too. And Carrie Underwood, who I really haven’t spent a lot of time with, but she is really nice and sings so great. She was actually the one who invited me to be a member of the family, it was really sweet of her to take the time to come and do that. We actually sang “Brown Eyes” together.
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