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New Museum Exhibit Overwhelms Patty Loveless: 'A Dream That's Come True' (Exclusive)

Soon to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame, the "Blame It on Your Heart" singer tells PEOPLE this latest honor has brought her much-needed joy

Patty Loveless calls this her “full circle” moment, but truly, it is the unbroken circle — that mythic current of timeless energy that constantly courses through country music.

Almost six decades ago, Loveless was a painfully shy Kentucky girl singing along to the records of her heroes, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, George Jones, Loretta Lynn. Today, she’s poised to join them all as the newest inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. And last week, a new exhibit celebrating her influential career, “Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth,” opened at the Hall of Fame’s museum.

Related: Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless and Songwriter Bob McDill to Enter Country Music Hall of Fame

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty </p> Patty Loveless at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville.

Jason Kempin/Getty

Patty Loveless at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville.

Loveless, 66, tells PEOPLE that she’s still trying to soak it in.

“It’s still hard for me to believe,” she said moments after touring the exhaustive exhibit for the first time on Tuesday. “It still feels like a dream that’s come true.”

<p>Courtesy Nancy Kruh</p> Patty Loveless vintage photo in the exhibit

Courtesy Nancy Kruh

Patty Loveless vintage photo in the exhibit

Plans for the exhibit were actually set in motion last fall, months before Loveless’ election to the Hall of Fame, which was announced in April.

“But I choose to believe this was in the stars all along,” Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said during an invitation-only reception in the plaque-filled rotunda. “Patty's life has been marked by a series of remarkable circumstances, challenges, and opportunities, all unlocked by her exceptional voice and her gift for artfully sharing real-life stories.”

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty </p> Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville

Jason Kempin/Getty

Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville

The exhibit recounts it all: Born Patricia Lee Ramey, she grew up a coal miner’s daughter (like her cousin Loretta Lynn) in Pikeville, Kentucky. First taking the stage at age 12, she headed to Nashville as a teen in the early 1970s, and finally launched her platinum-selling career in the mid-1980s. Well into the ’90s, she was a mainstay on the country chart with such hits as “Timber, I’m Falling in Love, “Chains,” “Blame It on Your Heart,” “I Try to Think About Elvis” and “You Can Feel Bad.” Nominated eight times for CMA vocalist of the year, she won in 1996.

Standing near her first guitar, on display in the exhibit, Loveless reminisced about first having to overcome her childhood shyness to even be able to show off her prodigious voice.

“Mama would invite family and friends over and she’d say, ‘Honey, come on now, sing them one,’” she recalled. “I was 5-6 years old. I’d run out into the kitchen and hide down behind the refrigerator or get in the corner and sing very loud so they could hear me, but I didn’t have to look at them.”

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty </p> Patty Loveless looks at her CMA and Grammy awards in the exhibit

Jason Kempin/Getty

Patty Loveless looks at her CMA and Grammy awards in the exhibit

She taught herself how to harmonize by singing along to country albums. When she was 12, her father bought her the Epiphone acoustic guitar to ease her loneliness after the family moved to Louisville, so he could be treated for black lung disease. That same year, 1969, her older brother Roger Ramey, a musician, watched her practicing on the porch and decided it was time to share her with the world.

Or as Loveless put it: “He was the one that drug me out onstage. He said, ‘Hey, I got a show we can do tonight.’ It was just a little ol’ jamboree, and they were collecting money in a cigar box, and it was folded-out chairs, probably 100-150 people. He did two songs. I did two songs, and then we did one together.”

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty </p> Patty Loveless signed poster in the exhibit

Jason Kempin/Getty

Patty Loveless signed poster in the exhibit

Brother and sister headed to Nashville two years later, where they cold-called Porter Wagoner, who encouraged them both and introduced them to Parton. After Loveless finished high school, she toured with the Wilburn Brothers and, at age 19, married the band’s drummer, Terry Lovelace.

The couple retreated to North Carolina, where they formed a regional band to perform rock and country-rock covers. But the marriage fell apart, and by 1984, she was ready to return to Nashville with the new last name that she’d been using professionally.

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty </p> A peek at the exhibit inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Jason Kempin/Getty

A peek at the exhibit inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Soon after signing her first record contract, she met Vince Gill at Nashville’s country music Fan Fair — a photograph in the exhibit captured the moment — and she famously told him that they would one day sing together. It didn’t take long: Two years later, Gill sang harmony on “If My Heart Had Windows,” one of Loveless’ early hits, and the two have since often joined voices on both their albums; they shared a CMA Award for vocal event of the year in 1999 for "My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man."

In 2013, the two delivered what is considered among the all-time most memorable country performances, at George Jones' funeral at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House. (The exhibit features the Givenchy jacket and pants that Loveless wore for the occasion.) As the two duetted Gill's "Go Rest High on that Mountain," Gill broke down in sobs, and Loveless powered him through.

Over the years, many artists have gravitated to collaborations with Loveless’ pure, peerless voice, including Jones, Parton, Wagoner, Bob Seger, George Strait and Dwight Yoakam. Indeed, that collaborative spirit is a theme that runs throughout the museum exhibit — a fact that Loveless embraces.

“I want people to know, when they walk away from this, that I’m sharing this with people that I have great gratitude for,” she says.

Throughout her career, she’s had no finer collaborator than her husband, Emory Gordy Jr., a songwriter, master musician and producer who has helmed most of her albums. His work and career — including writing the Classics IV’s 1969 pop hit “Traces” — also gets a nod in the exhibit.

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty</p> Emory Gordy Jr., Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville

Jason Kempin/Getty

Emory Gordy Jr., Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris at Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth, at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Aug. 22, 2023 in Nashville

Loveless made a memorable turn to bluegrass in the 2000s, earning a Grammy (on display) for her 2009 album, Mountain Soul II. She stepped back from an active career more than a decade ago; she and her husband share a home in Dallas, Georgia, a town of about 14,000 northwest of Atlanta.

Loveless’ musical descendants in that unbroken circle have occasionally lured her back to the stage and studio: She’s sung on tracks with Miranda Lambert, Carly Pearce, and Chris Young. Most recently, she reminded a national TV audience of her magnetism, singing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” from her 2001 album, Mountain Soul, with Chris and Morgane Stapleton on the 2022 CMA Awards.

These days, though, she says she does most of her singing “when I’m washing dishes, cleaning the house, you know, trying to keep the voice in shape.”

The past few years have been personally trying with the loss of her stepdaughter, a sister, and her brother, Roger. The museum exhibit and the Hall of Fame recognition, she says, have brought her some much-needed joy.

<p>Courtesy Nancy Kruh</p> Patty Loveless' Grammy award for best bluegrass album

Courtesy Nancy Kruh

Patty Loveless' Grammy award for best bluegrass album

“It’s just uplifting for me,” said Loveless, who has four surviving siblings. “It’s uplifting for my soul, and my family is just so proud. I’ve been blessed.”

Loveless will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Tanya Tucker and songwriter Bob McDill, during a ceremony in October. “Patty Loveless: No Trouble with the Truth” is open through October 2024 and is included with museum admission.

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