Remarks at a Birthday Celebration for Roy Acuff in Nashville, Tennessee

September 13, 1984

Thank you, Roy. And thank you all, ladies and gentlemen. Thank all of you up here on the stage, the great artists of the first of all American art forms, country music. I guess now that I've appeared at the Opry, I've really arrived.

I'm going to interject something here, just a little note that was not part of my prepared remarks, except I might also say, Roy, that the whole thing of being here a couple of days early, no problem at all for me. [Mr. Acuff had earlier referred to the fact that his birthday was September 15.] But if the 13th had fallen on tomorrow, I'd have really had problems then. [Laughter] Friday the 13th.

But I just want to say here that I talked this morning to the husband of Barbara Mandrell, [The President had telephoned Ken Dudley earlier in the day] and he asked me if I would say thanks to so many of you who have contacted them and who have called and who've expressed concern. And I know that she's a member of the family and should be here, too. And you all know she was in an accident. And I told him that I was sure that everyone was doing what we were doing, and that was praying that everything was all right, and praying, also, for the tragedy of the White family, and a prayer that she'll be well soon. But he said she's doing very well; so is their son. And the children are all right, also. So, I thought you'd be glad to hear that.

And now, I'll get on with it's wonderful to be here in Nashville. And it's wonderful to be here in Tennessee. This is one of those special States. It's more than just a place; it's a state of mind. The secret of Tennessee, the way I see it, is its people and the music they make. And, you know, the man who founded the Opry explained a little about both when he said, ``The Grand Ole Opry is as simple as sunshine. It has a universal appeal because it's built upon good will, it expresses the heartbeat of a large percentage of Americans who labor for a living.'' Well, I agree.

And now, we're here today to celebrate the 81st birthday of the King of Country Music. And, Roy, the other day I met with some senior citizens in the White House, and I told them the only way I could sum up my feelings about older folks is to greet them by saying, ``Hi, kids.'' [Laughter] So, now I want to share my thoughts about a kid named Roy Acuff who, in a couple of days, will be celebrating the 42d anniversary of his 39th birthday. [Laughter]

You know, he was born the son of a Baptist minister up in Maynardsville in 1903. He showed a certain talent for music when he was a boy, and he was so good at sports that he walked out of high school with 13 letters. The New York Yankees wanted him to come up north, but I guess Roy didn't want to leave home. He stayed in Tennessee, worked as a callboy on the L&N Railroad, and hung around the house learning to play the fiddle.

In the 1930's he joined a traveling medicine show, and he put together a group, and soon he had his own radio shows over in Knoxville. Roy started making records, and that was in the 1930's when labor practices were not what they could have been. In one session, it was so hot in the studio that the band recorded in their underwear. [Laughter] You may have heard of a few of the songs that they were working on. One was the ``The Great Speckled Bird,'' and the other was ``Wabash Cannonball.'' In an earlier appearance of mine -- not here -- Roy and his band played that, as he said, for about 45 minutes from -- [laughter] -- my entrance and greeting of a lot of people.

But he first played at the Opry in 1938. And soon he and the Smokey Mountain Boys were regulars, and they were so popular that they beat out Frank Sinatra in some of the national music polls. It's no exaggeration to say that Roy Acuff brought country music into the mainstream of American life. And he and his music were so much a part of our lives, it's said that during World War II when the Japanese would storm a beach they would yell, ``To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, and to hell with Roy Acuff!'' [Laughter]

A few years later a Governor of Tennessee was invited to appear at the Opry, and he turned it down with the statement that he thought country music was ``disgracing the State.'' Roy Acuff didn't like that a lot. [Laughter] So, he ran for Governor in the next primary. [Laughter] He didn't win, but he made his point. I don't think a lot of politicians criticize country music anymore.

In 1962 Roy Acuff became the first living musician to be honored as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. A few years after that he was in a bad car accident, but within months he was up and out of his sick bed to entertain the troops in Vietnam. And he was there to sing at the White House when the POWs returned in 1974.

Roy Acuff isn't just a great artist, he's a fine man and a patriot. He loves America, and he's stuck by her through thick and thin. I'm personally honored by the opportunity to come and to honor him. And, Roy, I know I'm speaking for everyone here when I say you will always be the King of Country Music and, therefore, the only appropriate thing to say on your 81st birthday is, ``Long Live the King!''

There's one thing I want to add, something I was thinking about on my way down here on the plane. All of you are aware, I think, that there's a great resurgence of patriotic feeling sweeping the country. And it's heartening, and I've been moved by it. You could see it during the Olympics, how the crowds out in Los Angeles would wave the flag and sing along to ``The Star Spangled Banner.'' And you can hear it in the popular music these days, and you'll hear it when Lee Greenwood sings ``God Bless the U.S.A.''

Now, there are a lot of reasons, I guess, why this good spirit has returned to our land. But it got a lot of encouragement from Nashville. It's the people of this city who never forgot to love their country, who never thought patriotism was out of style. And I know you were just expressing how you felt; you didn't know that you were doing your country a great service by keeping affection for it alive in your songs. But you were doing it a service, and I don't know if anyone has ever thanked you. But if not, thank you. People like you make me proud to be an American.

Now, this is such a fine day, and I look at all of you and somehow I don't see why the other side keeps saying things are so terrible in this country. According to them, we're in desperate straits. So, I hope you don't mind my asking, do you feel better off than you did 4 years ago? [Applause]

Could it be because the economy is expanding again, and we have real prosperity without inflation, and because there are 6 million new jobs in the country in the past 20 months, and that you have a friend in the White House who doesn't believe that you're undertaxed? [Applause]

Well, then, let me ask you one more question: Is America better off than it was 4 years ago? [Applause]

Now, the other side keeps saying the answer to all this success is to start another old round of tax and tax and spend and spend. I think we all better remember that the other side's promises are a little like Minnie Pearl's hat -- they both have big price tags hanging from them. [Laughter] But the price tag on those promises comes to over $1,800 for every American household.

And I don't know about our opponents, but there's an old country and western song called ``Home on the Range,'' where seldom is heard a discouraging word. I guess they haven't campaigned there yet. [Laughter] You could invite them here. If you don't, that's just as well. [Laughter] But they couldn't perform here anyway, because all they do is sing the blues. [Laughter]

The truth is there are things to be happy about and proud of in this country these days. The misery index is just about half what it was, and the forces of international communism have not, in these past few years, been gaining ground. And here at home the decent, homely virtues, the wholesome habits, are in style again.

There's so much before us, so much of the future to be seized and shaped by us. We can simplify the tax system so that people aren't sick with worry and confusion every April 15th. And if we do, we can continue to lower tax rates, which will further encourage the working men and women of this country and further encourage economic expansion.

We can continue the fairness of our foreign policy so that our friends will know that we're their friends, and our adversaries will know we're not a doormat.

And we can continue together to encourage respect for traditional values. We're greatly blessed in this country. We've been allowed to stand for something. So much of our greatness is behind us, but so much of our greatness is still before us.

There are big challenges ahead and big dreams. And no matter what your party, I hope you can join with us this year and walk with us toward a better future. You're wanted and welcome. And no one should feel left out. Our party is open to you and waiting for you.

And I thank you so much. I thank you, Roy, and Lee, and all of you. God bless you all.

And now, Roy, we have a little something special for you here. I was going to bring it in, but my pocket was full.

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the Grand Ole Opry Theater at Opryland, U.S.A. Following his remarks, a cake was brought out on stage and everyone sang ``Happy Birthday.'' Prior to his appearance at the celebration, the President met with Mr. Acuff at his residence.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.