By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
The late renowned songwriter and University of Mississippi alumnus Jim Weatherly will be honored with the university’s inaugural Medal for the Arts in an April 21 presentation on campus.
In partnership with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the College of Liberal Arts, the UM Department of Music will recognize Weatherly’s legacy of songwriting and contributions to many genres of music. The ceremony, which begins at 8 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, will feature country music star Brett Young and the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble as the house band.
Members of Weatherly’s family will be in attendance to make remarks and receive the award.
“The Medal for the Arts award recognizes skilled artistry – acclaimed or up-and-coming – or a supporter of the arts who positively affects the Lafayette-Oxford-University community,” said Nancy Maria Balach, chair and professor of music and CEO-artistic director of Living Music Resource.
Balach and Brady Bramlett, associate director of development and executive managing director of LMR, began developing the award in 2019. The two had the idea of honoring and recognizing contributors for the arts that directly affect the Lafayette-Oxford-University community.
“Music is the focus of this year’s award, but the goal is to recognize contributors and patrons across all genres of the arts, such as theater, dance, visual and digital art, and so forth,” Bramlett said.
Young, who is also headliner of the Double Decker Arts Festival the following night in downtown Oxford, will perform an acoustic set during the ceremony as a tribute to Weatherly. Both Weatherly and Young are former Ole Miss student-athletes who have excelled in the music industry.
Weatherly, who died Feb. 3, 2021, was a star quarterback for the Ole Miss Rebels, leading Coach John Vaught’s squads to Southeastern Conference championships in 1962 and 1963 and a share of the 1962 national title. He was part of the university’s only perfect season, 10-0 in ’62, which concluded with a 17-13 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
He wrote mostly pop and country music. A Pontotoc native, Weatherly began writing songs when he was about 12 years old. He had his own bands during high school and while attending Ole Miss until he moved to Los Angeles with his rock band, The Gordian Knot, in 1966.
He wrote some of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ greatest hits, including “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye,” “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” In 1999, “Midnight Train to Georgia” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and was named one of the top 500 songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003.
Weatherly was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. He was named Country Songwriter of the Year in 1974 by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Weatherly also had seven albums of his own as a recording artist during his years in Los Angeles. “The Need to Be” reached No. 11 on the pop charts and No. 6 on the A/C charts during the mid-’70s. He also had a Top 10 country record with “I’ll Still Love You.”
After moving back to the South, Weatherly continued to enjoy success. His self-published song “Love Never Broke Anyone’s Heart,” which he co-wrote with Vince Gill, is on Gill’s “I Still Believe in You” album that has sold more than 5 million copies.
He and Gill also teamed up to write “If I Didn’t Have You in My World” for the double-platinum “Pocket Full of Gold” album.
Weatherly’s “A Lady Like You” was No. 1 on the country charts for Glen Campbell. “Where Shadows Never Fall,” also recorded by Campbell, won Weatherly his first Dove Award. New Asylum country artist Bryan White had his first No. 1 country hit with Weatherly’s “Someone Else’s Star.”
He also co-wrote “You Know How I Feel” with White for his debut album.
Weatherly also had cuts recorded by Marie Osmond, Charley Pride, Dean Martin, Kenny Rogers, Reba McIntire, Kenny Chesney, Joan Osborne, Hall & Oates, Ed Bruce, The Temptations, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Widespread Panic, Jennifer Hudson and many more.
Before Weatherly’s death, Balach and a group of Ole Miss students visited and interviewed him for an episode of “LMR Live” on location at Larry Rogers’ studio in Nashville. Balach’s and Bramlett’s relationship with the Weatherly family began because of their work with LMR.
“We visited Jim’s wife, Cynthia, and son, Zack, at their home in Nashville in March of last year,” Bramlett said. “We realized we as an institution have never honored Jim for his years and boundless contributions to the music industry.”
Cynthia Weatherly said she and her family are grateful for the recognition UM is showing her late husband and his work.
“This would make Jim so happy,” she said. “Jim loved the University of Mississippi and his family roots run deep at Ole Miss. We thank everyone involved in making this possible.”
Young has captured the hearts of fans through his honest lyrics and West Coast-meets-Southern sound, aptly dubbed “Caliville” style. With a string of No. 1 songs and two albums defined by a transcendent romantic spark, he is hailed one of country music’s hottest young artists.
He was named ASCAP’s 2018 Country Songwriter-Artist of the Year for his “melodic craftsmanship” (Billboard) and has also garnered nominations from ACM, Billboard, Teen Choice, CMT and CMA Awards. In recognition of his seven consecutive chart-toppers, Rolling Stone deemed Young “one of country’s most consistent radio stars.”
Tickets for the Medal for the Arts ceremony are $10 and may be purchased by visiting the UM Box Office website.
Ole Miss Athletics Communications contributed to this story.