Tennessee Tourism Honors Historic Gatlinburg Inn And Legacy Of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Rocky Top” With Unveiling Of “Tennessee Music Pathways” Marker
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
- photo by Angela Carathers | Gatlinburg CVB
The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development kicked off the first annual Gatlinburg Songwriters Festival with the unveiling of a new “Tennessee Music Pathways” marker to honor the Historic Gatlinburg Inn and the legacy of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Rocky Top.” Janelle Arthur, Hits & Grins, the All-Star Bluegrass Band featuring Jerry Salley, plus local and state leaders were on hand to mark the special occasion.
“There are very few songs that people know when and where they were written, and ‘Rocky Top’ is the exception,” said David Cross, co-owner of the Gatlinburg Inn.
“As a state song of Tennessee, it is important that it is commemorated here today so that the Gatlinburg Inn will always be known as the birthplace of this great Tennessee tradition.”
“So many of Tennessee’s most celebrated songwriters, including the Bryants, wrote so many hits at the Gatlinburg Inn, including ‘Rocky Top,” said Cara Hogan, Executive Director of Gatlinburg Songwriters Festival. “What an honor it is for the Gatlinburg Songwriters Festival to be headquartered here this weekend.”
Among the most well-known bluegrass songs of all time, “Rocky Top” was written in Aug. 1967 in Room 388 of the Gatlinburg Inn. Originally recorded by the Osborne Brothers, it has become a standard.
Although “Rocky Top” shares some resemblance to Appalachian folk songs and fiddle tunes, it was written by the husband-and-wife team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Known as some of Nashville’s first professional songwriters in the early 1950s, the Bryant’s wrote hits for the Everly Brothers (“Bye, Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake up, Little Susie”), Roy Orbison (“Love Hurts”), Buddy Holly (“Raining in My Heart”), Little Jimmy Dickens (“Country Boy,” “We Could”) and many others.
In 1967, East Tennessee singer-comedian-television star Archie Campbell asked the Bryant’s to write some ballads for his forthcoming Golden Years album. The Bryant’s often spent part of the summer in the Smoky Mountains, staying at the area’s oldest hotel, the storied Gatlinburg Inn. They were deep into work on Campbell’s album when they decided to take a break with a bluegrass-style hoe-down song. Within ten or fifteen minutes, they finished “Rocky Top.” To them, it was a nonsense song about a fictional place.
In Nashville, the Bryant’s lived near bluegrass singer Sonny Osborne of the Osborne Brothers. They walked to his house with “Rocky Top,” and Sonny liked it enough to call his brother over to rehearse it. The song was recorded November 16, 1967 and released shortly before year-end. The Osbornes' record peaked at No. 33 on the country charts but has become a standard, recorded by many artists and performed by many more.
The University of Tennessee’s Pride of the Southland Band first played the song during halftime of a football game against the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide October 21, 1972. Music arranger Barry McDonald, who had worked on The Johnny Cash ABC-TV show, created the arrangement. Quickly, it became a staple at every game. The Bryant’s heirs subsequently gave the university the right to play the song royalty-free as often as circumstances dictated.
On Feb. 15, 1982, “Rocky Top” became one of Tennessee's official state songs.
Shown from left to right are General Manager of Historic Gatlinburg Inn Gary Baily, COO Hospitality Solutions, Inc. Davy Thomas, Executive Director of Gatlinburg Songwriters Festival Cara Hogan, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s Director of Outreach Zach Ledbetter, Co-owner of Historic Gatlinburg Inn David Cross and CEO of Gatlinburg CVB Mark Adams