Two Knoxville friends among top state artistic talent

Two of the Governor’s Arts Awards winners were singer Brenda Lee and editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel. Daniel was the first editorial cartoonist to win the award. (Photo by Duane Grieve.)

We went to the Governor’s Arts Awards in Nashville last week because we wanted to see our friends Charlie Daniel and Ashley Capps receive the high honor.

And what we got during those two hours in Conservation Hall at the Tennessee Residence was even more than that. It was a joyous celebration of a vast range of arts all across the state of Tennessee. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the small invitation-only audience was smiling ear-to-ear with delight the entire time.

“Like the Volunteer State’s diverse landscapes that stretch from east to west, the creativity and talents of these outstanding Tennesseans contribute to the breadth, depth and superiority of the arts and culture we enjoy,” said Gov. Bill Lee, who, with First Lady Maria Lee, hosted the event.

Oh, and we also got to meet singers Brenda Lee and Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard.

Little Richard is 86 now and lives in Nashville. He is in frail health. His award was moved to the top of the program, and then he was wheeled away by family members. He used his acceptance speech to preach about and thank God.

The award winners were divided into three categories. Winners in the “Folklife Heritage” category were singer and washtub bassist Janice Birchfield of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers; self-taught sculptor Hattie Marshall-Duncan of Jackson; Choctaw bead maker and dressmaker Sally Wells of Smyrna; and white oak basket maker Sue Williams of Morrison.

In the “Arts Leadership” category, winners were Rich Boyd of Nashville, former executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission; Linda Caldwell of Etowah, founding director of the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association; Knoxville’s Ashley Capps, a prolific music promoter and founder of the Bonnaroo Music Festival and Big Ears Festival; and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. (Yep, the whole museum won the prize!)

Taking home the “Distinguished Artist” awards were painter Joanna Higgs Ross of Nashville; longtime editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel of Knoxville; rock ’n’ roll pioneer Little Richard of Nashville; and iconic crossover singer Brenda Lee of Nashville.

Ashley Capps with his wife, Birgit Clark, left, and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero. Mayor Rogero appeared in a video about Capps that evening. She credited him with being an important part of the revitalization of downtown Knoxville.

Charlie Daniel with his friend, former Knoxville City Councilman Duane Grieve.

From left, Alan Carmichael, Patsy and Charlie Daniel and Duane Grieve. (Alan and I were invited because I nominated Charlie for the award.)

Patsy Daniel greeting Marshall Ramsey, the longtime editorial cartoonist for the Jackson Clarion Ledger in Mississippi. He said Charlie Daniel was his mentor.

Former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist and First Lady Martha Sundquist prior to the program. Sundquist nominated Brenda Lee for the honor.

Alan Carmichael, right, got to reconnect with an old friend and former co-worker, journalist John Seigenthaler, who was master of ceremonies for the evening. They worked together at The Tennessean in Nashville years ago.

Here are some members of the Jimmy Church Band who played a medley of Little Richard’s hits.

Little Richard posing with Gov. Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee.

Basketmaker Sue Williams being congratulated by Gov. Lee.

Master bead worker Sally Wells receiving her award.

Janice Birchfield making remarks after accepting her award.

The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers knocked us dead with their old-time musical talent.

Hattie Marshall-Duncan accepting her award.

From left, Joe Kilgore, chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission board; winner Linda Caldwell; and Gov. and First Lady Lee.

Ashley Capps with Gov. and First Lady Lee after receiving his award.

Joanna Higgs Ross accepting her award.

Charlie Daniel greeting Gov. and First Lady Lee while accepting his award.

I had to smile when, during his acceptance remarks, Charlie said he often is asked where he gets his ideas for editorial cartoons. “I don’t know where the ideas come from,” he said. “But I do know where they do NOT come from — and that’s other people’s suggestions!”

This is so true. For years when I worked with Charlie at the old Knoxville Journal, fellow reporters often would ask how they could get Charlie to draw a cartoon about the story they were writing. “Do NOT ask him!” I would warn. That was always the kiss of death for getting him to draw a cartoon. It had to be his idea.

From left, Anne Pope, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, Joe Kilgore, Charlie Daniel and Gov. and First Lady Lee.

Singer Mandy Barnett performed a tribute to the music of Brenda Lee.

The Governor and First Lady with Brenda Lee when she accepted her award.

Brenda Lee and Charlie Daniel.

The award itself was a beautiful iris, the state flower of Tennessee, crafted by Joe Brown of Readyville, Tennessee.

Mayor Rogero and Alan Carmichael. We had fun sitting with her and our friend Fiona McAnally from her office.

You may recognize Krishna Adams from her time at the Knoxville Museum of Art where she did a fantastic job. She’s director of visual art, craft, media and design at the Tennessee Arts Commission now. That’s Duane Grieve, left, and Alan Carmichael.

Duane Grieve and Gov. Bill Lee, right.

Mayor Rogero with Gov. Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee after the program.

I thought you might like to see some of the fantastic music we experienced that night. Here is the Jimmy Church Band playing a Little Richard medley:


The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers with an award-winning flatfoot dancer:


Mandy Barnett with her Brenda Lee tribute:






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12 Responses to Two Knoxville friends among top state artistic talent

  1. Alan Carmichael, on October 29th, 2019 at 12:22 pm said:

    This was a touching tribute to a wide diversity of artists. Charlie and Ashley represented Knoxville very well.

  2. Lucinda Denton, on October 29th, 2019 at 2:17 pm said:

    What an amazing and diverse collection of talent in our state. Kudos to Governor Lee for recognizing these celebrities with the unique iris sculpture and thank you for the videos and complete coverage with pictures.

  3. Cynthia Moxley, on October 29th, 2019 at 2:23 pm said:

    Alan: I agree. A very special night honoring two very special friends.

    Lucinda: We were so amazed by the diversity of talent we saw. Thanks for reading the Blue Streak!

  4. Mary Childress, on October 29th, 2019 at 4:56 pm said:

    Thanks for nominating Charlie. He was such an asset for the Journal. Bill and I cherished his and Patsy’s friendship.

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on October 29th, 2019 at 6:28 pm said:

    Hi, Mary: It was my pleasure. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

  6. Marsha Grieve, on October 29th, 2019 at 10:44 pm said:

    I’m jealous Duane got to go. You could not have nominated a better person than Charlie Daniel, Cynthia and Alan!

  7. Cynthia Moxley, on October 30th, 2019 at 1:57 pm said:

    Marsha: We told Duane that we missed you! It would have been fun to all four have been there.

  8. Mary Donnet Johnson, on October 30th, 2019 at 11:36 pm said:

    Rick and I were so thrilled to see you and Alan there. Wish we could have connected but know you were on the job. We had so much Knoxville pride for Ashley Capps and Charlie Daniel to receive this prestigious award. I have been so honored to be on the Arts Commission and be on the committee who gave these awards this year. So special. We do indeed live in a state of amazing people.

  9. Cynthia Moxley, on October 31st, 2019 at 10:11 am said:

    Hey, Mary: It was only after everyone was seated that I spotted you all across the room. Missed you during the “mingle time.” It sure was a great night, wasn’t it?

  10. Georgiana Vines, on October 31st, 2019 at 10:18 pm said:

    Glad to see the diversity represented in the winners. Not really traditionalists, shall we say?

  11. Nancy Sharp Voith, on November 15th, 2019 at 8:49 am said:

    Cynthia — Thank you so much for posting this important recognition of some of our exceptional artistic talents. Artistic efforts and people move our communities forward in significant ways, but are often overlooked.

  12. Pingback:Brenda Lee on Little Richard’s Last-Ever Public Appearance – Gossipum

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