Trisha Yearwood recalled how badly she wanted to move to Nashville 30 years ago.
“It was 1985,” she remembered. “I knew I wanted to sing from the time I was 5 years old. I also came from a family that believed in education very strongly, so I also knew I wasn’t going to get out of finishing college. Belmont was the perfect place for me to do that, but also to be in the town that I wanted to be in. The thing that struck me were 16th and 17th Avenue, and all those unassuming houses. Many of them looked like a home, but they were where publishers and songwriters were working and demos were being done.”
Since then, there have been a lot of changes in Music City. She joked to Billboard that it’s easier to get lost. “Now, when I drive downtown, I have to use my GPS because everything in town is so different.” However, some things remain the same. “But, those two streets — even though there are changes — there is such a familiarity of them that reminds me of how it was when I moved there. Jack’s Tracks, where [husband] Garth [Brooks] cut all of his records, is now Allentown, but it looks the same. Seeing all the buildings that still exist — like MTM Records, where I was a receptionist — the label isn’t there anymore, but the building is, it’s comforting to me to know that those things are still there, which is what I remember when I first drove into town.”
Her first job upon moving to Nashville was at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “It was just a minimum-wage job, but I loved it so much,” she said. “I loved seeing all the stuff. I loved walking in there, and seeing all the artifacts — like the dresses that Patsy Cline wore and all the things were so amazing. It was really a summer job, but it was one of my favorite ones.”
After she hit the charts in 1991, she still was a part of the organization. “I also was on the board for a couple of years, which was really weird. When I worked there, it amazed me about all the artifacts that couldn’t be displayed, because the building wasn’t big enough. I think the new Hall is so beautiful, and it’s so great that the people get to see so much more.”
The songstress will be the subject of a new exhibit at the Hall, with the Friday opening of Trisha Yearwood: The Song Remembers When. She admits that it’s a weird feeling to know that her life and career will be on display, given her history at the Hall. “To have an exhibit there is an honor all its own, but when you add to it that I was an employee at the Hall at one point, makes it even more surreal.”
Yearwood says that the exhibit will contain many items from her days in the spotlight, but also a few from pre-stardom. “My first guitar, an old Yamaha, that my dad bought me when I was 14 is included. The first guitar I ever played was a Silvertone guitar that my parents got at Sears and Roebuck. There’s pictures of me when I was 3 and 4 years old. That guitar and those pictures are in there as well.”
Of the newer items, she says, “One of the current things I am most excited about is that I wore two wedding dresses on my wedding day to Garth, and they are both in there. They are so gorgeous and can’t wait to see them on display.”
There are also many letters from fans in the collection — some of which still surprise her. “There’s one from Johnny Cash that is a prized possession. I remember in 1992, I was playing Branson, and he was in town as well. I did an interview, and he was very nice, but he said, ‘Johnny Cash is playing in town tonight. Tell us why people should come see you [instead].’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I would probably want to go see Johnny Cash too.’ I guess he saw the article.”
A little while later, Yearwood received quite the surprise. “At the time, I was renting a house in Green Hills, and I went to the mailbox that day, and there was a letter from the House of Cash. I opened it, and there was a handwritten letter from him saying he appreciated what I had said about him in the interview and that he loved ‘Wrong Side of Memphis.’ He congratulated me on my success, and to have that kind of validation that early in my career from somebody like that was something I’ll never forget. Telling that story, I can remember the little piece of carpet I was standing on in my house when I opened that letter. I’m excited that’s going to be on display.” Yearwood says that recognition like that from her idols, whether Cash, Reba McEntire or Don Henley, will never become mundane for the girl from Jasper Country, Georgia. “It’s never become normal to me, and I hope that it never is. I’m sure it won’t be.”
Trisha Yearwood: The Song Remembers When will be at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum through December.