NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Marty Martel never had a gold record, but he’s been in the country music business for 30 years, first as a singer and later as the owner of a small production and talent agency.

Now 64 years old and near the end of his career, Martel wants a little peace of mind.

He wants to see a long-discussed retirement home built for people in country music, a place where singers, producers, musicians and others can go, no matter how little money they have.

“I know that when my time comes I hope that I have everything in order and I don’t need it,” Martel said. “But I’d like to know that it’s there.”

After 10 years of stops and starts, the project is gaining traction. A task force appointed by the Country Music Association and the Reunion of Professional Entertainers is searching for land. Organizers have collected seed money. And some high-profile executives and entertainers have gotten behind it, including CMA President Ed Benson and singer Martina McBride.

Still, Benson said that until ground is broken and sketches drawn, raising the millions it will take to build the home is a hard sell. The timing is less than ideal, with music sales in a slump.

“In 1994, at the height of country’s biggest success boom ever, had we been able to get it off the ground, raising money for this would have been easier,” Benson said.

The retirement home will be patterned after one run by the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Los Angeles. Besides the retirement home, MPTF operates a service network of five outpatient centers, a 265-bed hospital and a children’s center.

The Nashville project is far less ambitious. Coordinator Katy Gillon said the home is to be developed in three phases, starting with independent living villas, then assisted living quarters and finally a skilled nursing home.

Fees would be paid on a sliding scale, with each person’s situation kept private. Rules for eligibility are still in the works.

At the MPTF retirement home, residents must be in the film or TV industry at least 20 years to be eligible. Besides actors, the home is open to writers, set designers, camera operators and other behind-the-scenes workers.

Benson said it’s important that Nashville’s retirement home is viewed as a place for people of all means, not as a last resort for the poor.

“We want to create a community that is desirable and not just be seen as a home for the decrepit and people who couldn’t take care of themselves,” he said.

Still, the need is there.

Until the 1960s, country music was a relatively small, regional industry, and its singers and musicians struggled to make a living, let alone save for retirement. “In the first 30 or 40 years of country music, it wasn’t really an organized profession that had as one of its aspects the concern and welfare of the individual,” said Charles Wolfe, an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University who has written several histories of country music. “Up until the age of modern Nashville, in 1958 or 1960 when the CMA was formed, there wasn’t much of anything out there for musicians to use as retirement.”

Some well-known singers fell on hard times after their careers waned:

• Dottie West, the first female country singer to win a Grammy, filed for bankruptcy and her personal belongings were auctioned before her death in 1994.

• Singer and songwriter Johnny Russell, who wrote the No. 1 hit “Act Naturally,” was devastated by medical bills before he died in 2001.

• Johnny Paycheck, who sang “Take This Job and Shove It,” was reportedly in financial straits when he died this year.

“There was a period of time when members of our community were not counseled as well as they are today on how to take some of that money and provide for later years,” Benson said.

McBride, a platinum-selling singer who is on the nursing home task force, thinks other performers will support the project . Already, several artists who perform at CMA’s annual Fan Fair festival donate proceeds to the home.

The Grand Ole Opry trust fund, established to help Opry members, also contributes.

McBride says it’s important that entertainers who become successful help the people who helped them.

“We might be OK, but the crew members who get up there every day before we get up in the morning and leave after we’ve gone home – they might not be OK,” she said. “There are people who might work for an artist for 20 or 25 years, and when that artist retires they may be without a job. A lot of these people haven’t planned for their futures.”



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.