Once known far and wide as George “No-Show” Jones, the Texas-born country singer, in his wilder, hard-drinking days, earned a lawsuit-riddled infamy for failing to show up for concert performances and professional appearances.
In more recent years, however, and with the life-changing help, love and devotion of wife Nancy, Jones has worked hard to repair his trouble-filled reputation. Consequently, the country singer was right on time, and front and center, Dec. 6, 2008, to receive his very own Kennedy Center medallion, the most prestigious arts prize given, during the 31st annual awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where President George Bush and Washington's elite also were in attendance. (A televised celebration of the honorees was taped for broadcast Dec. 7.)
Country Singer George Jones Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
The Kennedy Center Honors, created in honor of John F. Kennedy, are awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts. Aside from Jones, who's commonly referred to as the "greatest living country singer ever," this year's recipients included actor Morgan Freeman, director/singer/actress/composer/producer Barbra Streisand, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and musicians Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of rock group The Who.
Regarding this year’s prize recipients, "With their extraordinary genius and tenacity, the 2008 honorees have redefined the way we see, hear and feel the performing arts. We will forever be thankful for the great gifts they have shared with us," said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman in a press statement.
From Country Radio to the Grand Ole Opry, CMA, ACM and Grammy Awards
Now 77, Jones first country music success came in 1955, still fresh from his stint in the military, when he scored at country radio and on the country music charts with Why, Baby, Why and was named “Most Promising Country Vocalist” by Billboard in 1956. From that point forward, he earned a string of accolades, including Country Music Association trophies, Grammy Awards and Academy of Country Music titles, among countless others.
Jones joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1969 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and in 2002, he was presented with a National Medal of Arts. But his inclusion in the Kennedy Center Honors Class of 2008 had even the most prize-winning male vocalist of country music a bit in awe.
"I appreciate the honor, don't get me wrong," Jones said in an interview published Dec. 7, 2008, in The Tennessean. "But I feel kind of out of place. It seems like there's a lot of people that would deserve it more than I do. I messed up my life way back there, drinking and boozing and all that kind of stuff, and you wish you could just erase it all. You can't do that, though. You just have to live it down the best you can."
George Jones: Hit-Country Duets & Solo Chart Success
Once married to the late, great country singer Tammy Wynette, with whom he recorded a number of successful hit-country songs as a duet between 1971 and '80, including Golden Ring, We're Gonna Hold On, The Ceremony, (We're Not) The Jet Set and Near You, Jones has been sober since a car crash nearly ended his life in 1999. In spite of his infamous behavior, subsequent arrests and hard-living reputation, the silver-haired singer, now content and happy in life, has served as a powerful inspiration for countless other country performers and become one of the most successful recording artists of all time.
According to his artist biography, in fact, Jones charted more singles than any artist in any musical format—166 and counting. His lengthy list of No. 1 country songs is, in a word, unparalleled, with a discography that includes country favorites and classics such as White Lightning, Tender Years, She Still Thinks I Care, Walk Through This World With Me, The Grand Tour, Still Doin’ Time, I Always Get Lucky With You, The Race is On and his signature, Grammy-winning song, He Stopped Loving Her Today.
In addition to Wynette, Jones has also dueted with everyone from Gene Pitney, Melba Montgomery and Dolly Parton, to Merle Haggard, Barbarell Mandrell and Ray Charles. But now, with his Kennedy Center prize ready for the mantel in his Williamson County, Tenn., home, Jones can say he's quite literally seen and done it all when it comes to his music career.
Kennedy Center Honor 'Humbles' Country Music Star
“I am completely overwhelmed to be the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor,” Jones in a message on his Web page. “I can’t believe that I have been included in the same company as previous winners that are country music legends: Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff and Willie Nelson.
"Since I was a young man," he continued, "I have just done what I love and that is sing country music, and I never dreamed that something this special would happen to me. I am completely humbled and will be proud to accept the award!”
For more information about the Kennedy Center Honors, including the current and past recipients, please access www.kennedy-center.org.
Cooper, Peter. After hard-living past, George Jones gets top honor, The Tennessean, Dec. 7, 2008 issue.
Morgan Freeman, George Jones, Barbra Streisand, Twyla Tharp, and Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey To Receive 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors, press release. Accessed Dec. 7, 2008, on The Kennedy Center Web site at www.kennedy-center.org.
George Jones Biography, n.d. Retrieved Dec. 7, 2008.
George Jones, artist's official Web page. Accessed Dec. 7, 2008, at www.georgejones.com.