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Henry Ford and country music (copyright image)

Bill Ford (left) and Ricky Skaggs (right)

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Henry Ford’s enjoyment of music started early in his life when he began attending dances back in the 1880s. At the time, dances were a popular social activity, and it was at a dance that Henry met his future bride, Clara Bryant.

In the early 1920s the Fords renewed their interest in old-fashioned American dancing when they bought and then restored the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, paying special attention to the ballroom.

Ford then hired a dance instructor, Benjamin Lovett, who lived in the area. Lovett would give dance lessons to the music the Fords favoured. It wasn’t long before they held square dances and old-fashioned dances on a regular basis at the Wayside Inn, inviting family and friends.

In 1928 the Fords invited Mr. & Mrs. Lovett to Dearborn, Michigan, to teach dance lessons at several of their parties. Later that year, Ford asked the Lovetts to move to Dearborn to work full-time as dance instructors for the Ford’s dances.

Dances were later held in a specially-cleared space in a corner of the Ford Motor Company’s Engineering Laboratory. A small orchestra consisting of a violin, a sousaphone, a dulcimer and a cymbalum (Hungarian piano) provided the music.

When the dancing parties were still new, Henry Ford would often bring in fiddlers to provide music. He would hear of contest-winning fiddlers and ask them to play for one of his parties. He also started sponsoring country fiddling contests during the mid-1920’s, the most prestigious being the “Henry Ford Gold Cup” contest in Dearborn. Fiddlers would compete for the title of “King of the Old-Time Fiddlers.”  He also sponsored fiddling contests in hundreds of other communities, offering a loving cup trophy to many of the winners.

Ford’s fiddling contests help launch a country-fiddling and old-fashioned dance craze in the United States. Radio programmes featured fiddle music and bookstores sold fiddle tune sheet music and instruction diagrams. Although the craze died out for the most part in the spring of 1926, Ford continued with his old-fashioned dances until the early 1940’s.

Henry Ford’s enjoyment of country music was not confined to his dances. He also pioneered the “Early American Dance Music” half-hour radio programme. It was broadcast from the Ford Motor Company’s recording studio in the Engineering Laboratory. The show featured Benjamin Lovett calling the dances, which were played by the Ford Early American Orchestra. The radio programme continued until the resumption of civilian vehicle production at the end of World War II in 1945.

Also, in an effort to educate the country’s youth in both old-fashioned dances and social graces, instructional classes were given to physical education teachers to teach the dances to their students. Schools that were in part funded by Henry Ford were expected to attend dancing classes.  Several universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina and Temple University had Early American dancing on their curriculum.

Bill Ford (Henry Ford's great-grandson) supports Country Music Museum

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum has launched a $75 million capital campaign that will finance the museum’s 200,000-square-foot expansion. With the new addition, the museum will double in size, from 140,000 square feet, to more than 350,000 square feet, tripling the existing exhibit space and adding additional archival storage, an 800-seat theatre and a new educational centre. Steve Turner, chairman of the museum’s Board of Officers and Trustees, announced the kick-off of the public phase of the campaign this morning at a ceremony in the museum’s Ford Theatre.

“This is an unbelievable moment in the history of this museum and in the history of Nashville,” said Turner. “The campaign will finance a 200,000-square-foot museum expansion that will connect – structurally and financially – with the Omni Nashville convention hotel. This is [an] unprecedented public-private partnership made possible by the vision and stewardship of Mayor Karl Dean.”

“Since the Museum opened in 2001, it has become one of Nashville’s signature cultural assets and a key economic engine,” said Mayor Dean. “Through a previously reported arrangement with the city, the Omni Hotel will construct an exterior shell to house an expanded museum seamlessly connected to the hotel on three levels. This commitment is valued at over $30 million, which the Museum will return to city coffers through a long-term lease agreement. With this integration into the Omni and with close proximity to the Music City Centre, now more than ever, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the city of Nashville will prosper.”

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Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford, who, along with Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson, serves as honorary co-chair of the campaign, talked about his company’s entwined history with country music. “Many of our customers today, particularly our truck owners, are fans of country music, just like my great-grandfather,” said Ford. “Country music is part of Ford’s heritage, and we are pleased to support the museum’s efforts to promote this uniquely American form of music.”

During the silent phase of the capital campaign, which is titled Working on a Building: Country Music Lives Here, $56.8 million in cash and pledges were secured. More than $48 million of the total comes from donors who have contributed $1 million or more, including a lead gift of $6.5 million from Steve and Judy Turner. Other donors of $1 million or more who were publicly announced at the ceremony included the Frist Foundation, the Ingram Charitable Fund, Inc. and the Andrea Waitt Carlton Family Foundation.

The expansion, due to be completed in northern spring 2014, will increase the museum’s size from 140,000 square feet to more than 350,000 square feet. The new building will feature an educational centre that includes a children’s gallery, classroom spaces and a recording studio; additional exhibit gallery and archival storage spaces; an 800-seat theatre; an expanded retail site that includes Hatch Show Print; and much more. The expanded museum will be integrated into a downtown campus with the Music City Centre and the Omni Hotel; the museum’s six-floor addition will unite the museum and the Omni Hotel on three levels, allowing the two entities to share space and facilitate visitors’ movements throughout the campus.

In addition to Working on a Building honorary co-chairs Ford and Kristofferson, the capital campaign committee includes Earl Bentz, Mark Bloom, Bill Denny, Mike Dungan, Rod Essig, Vince Gill, Randy Goodman, Keel Hunt, Ken Levitan, Brian O’Connell, Ken Roberts, John Seigenthaler, Steve Turner, Ernie Williams and Jody Williams.

The ceremony was aptly kicked off with Ricky Skaggs’ performance of “I’m Working on a Building”. Following Ford’s remarks, fiddler Buddy Spicher performed “Soldier’s Joy”. The ceremony concluded with a performance from Alan Jackson who sang “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too”, a song partially written by Hank Williams and completed by Jackson, which is featured on a forthcoming CD. Jackson also performed “Chattahoochee.”


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