Hall Of Fame Member Leaves Life’s Work to the Organization


Cindy Walker Photograph by Jody Horton

Aug. 13, 2009 — The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum houses tons of memorabilia — Johnny Cash’s clothing, Maybelle Carter’s guitar, even Elvis Presley’s Cadillac — but nothing beats the gift that 1997 inductee Cindy Walker bequeathed to the Hall before her death in 2006.

In an unprecedented gift of generosity, she willed the copyrights to her entire body of work to the Hall of Fame. That move generates money for the non-profit organization for the public use of some 500 songs made famous by such legends as Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Bob Wills and Eddy Arnold. The donation was announced at the Hall Wednesday in a warmly emotional ceremony that concluded with ace western-swing band the Time Jumpers delivering a five-song celebration of her music. Vince Gill made a guest appearance to round out the set on the classic "Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)."

Vince and two well-regarded Nashville producers, Fred Foster and Tony Brown, are recording a new 12-song promotional CD that will showcase some of Cindy’s songs for more than 450 movie producers and film-licensing specialists in an attempt to mine the catalog and extend her legacy. It’s an appropriate step, in part because she established herself during a 13-year stay in Los Angeles in which she wrote movie music for Bob Wills, Gene Autry and Spade Cooley, among others. "You Don’t Know Me," her most-recorded song, has been featured in such films as Ray, Groundhog Day and My Best Friend’s Wedding, and had a key role as the music in a tender dance scene during a 2006 episode of the CBS series "How I Met Your Mother."

Songwriters are compensated whenever their work is aired on TV or the radio, when recorded performances are sold, or when they’re licensed for other media, including movies. Her catalog — including Eddy Arnold’s "Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me," Ricky Skaggs’ "I Don’t Care" and Lyle Lovett’s "You’re From Texas" — practically guarantees the Hall of Fame will see revenues from her gift for years to come.

Cindy had "a generous heart and clearly a determined spirit," music publisher David Conrad said. "This [donation] is truly a first for us."

Fred Foster, who produced Roy Orbison and co-wrote the classic "Me And Bobby McGee," recalled working with Willie Nelson on the 2006 concept album You Don’t Know Me: The Songs Of Cindy Walker. Cindy told Fred Willie’s version of the title track was the most convincing recording of the song she’d heard from among hundreds of previous renditions. The album secured a bevy of strong reviews and got her profiled in The New York Times. She died just days after that story ran, a fact that was duly noted by Willie.

"She probably thought, ‘That’s about as good as I’ll get, I think I’ll just check out,’" Fred fondly remembered Willie saying.

Cindy’s contribution to the Hall has great financial and historical value, but it also had great personal meaning for her. She considered her songs her "babies," and she left them in the Hall of Fame’s possession because she felt they would be well tended. In her personal files, she left a type-written note to her "babies":

"Good bye my darling. You have been so good to me. You have made me rich and famous. I love you ... you are the reason I am ... and you are in the Hall of Fame. I will miss you. Goodbye, your girl ... Cindy Walker."