Country music wistfully remembered some of its greatest lost talent Wednesday at the Tennessee State Museum, but the spirit was lifted by a celebration of a few of its remaining treasures.
About 250 people gathered at "Sparkle and Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey" to help the Academy of Country Music honor Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Don Williams, Buck Owens and music executive Jack Lameier.
After musical tributes by Ashley Monroe and Rhonda Vincent, Parton was presented the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by former singing partner Porter Wagoner.
Parton joked that it was appropriate that she receive the pioneer award because she and Wagoner came to town in a covered wagon.
"I've seen a lot of wonderful things happen in this business, all sorts of styles, but it's always remained country music," she said.
"I like feeling like I'm one of the old-timers in the business, but I'm out there every day.
"I may be a pioneer, but I'm blazing new trails all the time, so don't give up on me," said Parton, who was recording in the studio earlier Wednesday.
Ray Scott honored Jennings by singing "Rainy Day Woman" and Buddy Jennings accepted his late father's Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award.
"I think it's long overdue," Buddy Jennings said. "It should've been done when he was alive so he could enjoy it. I'm glad they're finally coming around."
Tricia Yearwood sang the Patsy Cline song "He Called Me Baby" in honor of Pioneer Award recipient Harlan Howard.
Howard, who wrote more than 4,000 songs, was considered the dean of country songwriters. His hits include "I Fall to Pieces," "Busted" and "Heartaches by the Number."
His widow, Melanie Howard, accepted the award on his behalf.
"It's an honor anytime they recognize songwriters because it's hard for songwriters to compete with the likes of Dolly, Waylon and Buck," she said.
"Harlan was very shy and introverted. He preferred that his songs shine for him.
"He would have loved it after it was over," she said of the event. "He would be at the bar before and after."
Cliffee Stone award winner Don Williams, who did not attend, was praised by former manager John Dorris and manager Robert Pratt for his body of work that included 17 number one hits such as "Good Ole Boys Like Me'' and "You're My Best Friend."
The Don Williams hit "I Believe In You" was performed by one of its co-writers, Roger Cook.
Williams, who is hugely popular in Europe and has toured in Australia and Africa, was lauded for the international doors he opened for country music.
"I believe that Don carried the American country song across the world," Pratt said.
Buck Owens, who died last year, was given the Jim Reeves International Award for outstanding contributions to the acceptance of country music worldwide.
Connie Smith sang "The Key's in the Mailbox" and Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives performed an instrumental number.
Great American Country host Storme Warren discussed Owens' career accomplishments, which spanned singing and songwriting to hosting television shows and owning radio stations and nightclubs. Throughout his career, he received 20 ACM nominations.
Jack Lameier, who retired from Song Music Nashville after 40 years, was given the Mae Boren Axton award, recognizing his years of dedication to the ACMs.
"Mae Boren Axton always said, 'Put the music first,' " Lameier said. He was serenaded by Ty Herndon, one of his former artists. Herndon sang "What Matters Most," which Lameier helped make a hit on country radio.
Herndon said Lameier persuaded more than 100 radio stations to add the song the first week of its release.
"It still holds the record," Herndon said.
Tracy Lawrence and Hal Ketchum were in the audience at the event.