The TJ Martell Foundation, music’s funding behemoth for innovative medical research on leukemia, cancer and AIDS, recently held its largest, swankiest fundraiser on a Monday (yep, a Monday!) night at Nashville’s Hutton Hotel. The Honors Gala, which sold out for the fourth consecutive year with more than 400 attendees, is a star-studded, eclectic evening celebrating outstanding contributors in both the entertainment and healthcare industries. Sprinkle the mix with presenters and performers who are “success stories” in their own right, add in an incredible dinner paired with top-notch wines, fold in an exciting live auction and the result is a spectacular concoction capable of generating hundreds of thousands of dollars while enrapturing a notoriously hard-to-hold-down crowd of the busiest bigwigs in the music biz. While it was a late event that soared until almost midnight, the bigs remained firmly in their seats.
Multi-talented host Vince Gill was so comfortably adept at tossing off a constant stream of one-liners that guests were speculating as to whether he might be polishing a future comedy routine. Gill’s performance of his popular tune “Together Again” gave his legions of fans plenty to applaud prior to singer-songwriters K.T. Oslin, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Daniels, Martina McBride, Ronnie Dunn and Bruce Hornsby taking the stage between the award presentations.
The live auction, ably conducted by Robin Treadway and Storme Warren, got the crowd roaring, while providing yet another source of entertainment. The two “auctioneers” strong-armed donors into doubling and tripling their offerings right there on the spot, even sweetly coercing honoree Kris Kristofferson into agreeing to do a special acoustic performance at a private home anywhere in the country—a once-in-a-lifetime item that garnered a chart-topping $25,000!
Despite the witty antics, the patrons paid respectful tributes to the 2012 Honorees and their presenters during the ceremony. The Spirit of Nashville Award was presented to Tom Cigarran by Governor Phil Bredesen and Ralph Schulz; the Lifetime Music Industry Award was presented to the aforementioned famous Kris with-a-K by Emmylou Harris and Frances Preston; Dolly Parton and Kenny Chesney presented the Tony Martell Lifetime Award to Joe Galante; the Lifetime Humanitarian Award was presented to Colin Reed by the also aforementioned Vince with-a-V; and, finally, the Lifetime Medical Achievement Award was presented to Dr. C. Wright Pinson by Charlie Daniels and Julie Damon, the former Franklin High School Spanish teacher, who underwent Middle Tennessee’s first liver transplant, performed by Dr. Pinson in 1991. While the first three Honors Galas raised a total of $1.8 million for underwriting medical research, this fourth edition, with its $400,000 in proceeds, will continue to fund groundbreaking cancer advancements at 11 top research hospitals in the United States. Dr. Pinson, in true med school fashion, summed up the extensive evening best with this succinct analysis: “I like this marriage of medicine and music—both are healing arts.” GH
—photographs by eric england