NPR’s “Will the Circle…” American Anthem B-cast Prompts Editor’s Memory

Picture Robert Duvall leading a cast of country legends… with Tom Cruise in attendance. (Above photo NOT from the show, but from the actor’s star turn in the film The Apostle.)

By Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

During drivetime today, during NPR’s daily All Things Considered broadcast, they presented their latest in their wonderful “American Anthem” series of classic American songs that have been deemed, well, anthems worth memorializing and frequent celebrating. Ergo, the Americana country-gospel standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which in the seamless report from contributor Jewly Hight, puts things this way:

The song’s ability to help people feel emotionally, spiritually and musically connected to their present-day communities and those who have died, whether legendary musicians or loved ones, has made it a go-to ritual everywhere from worship services to family memorials, gospel sings, bluegrass picking parties, Americana award show finales and the annual Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Indeed. I had my up close and personal encounter with the song one memorable evening in January of 1990, involving  Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, June Carter Cash, Jessi Colter, Robert Duvall… and Tom Cruise. From my notes (and you can read the entire story here as well):

In January of 1990 Tom Cruise had finished filming his race car flick Days of Thunder at the Charlotte Motor Speedway…Early in the evening, co-star Robert Duvall arrived at the party with four very special friends in tow: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, June Carter Cash and Jessi Colter. Holy shit. I soon enough ditched my undercover-journalist guise and turned into a gushing fanboy, going over to welcome them to Charlotte and shake their hands. Soon enough, Cash and Jennings got up onstage to play with the band [local group the Belmont Playboys] for a couple of songs, followed by their wives, and then by Duvall. Before it was all done, Duvall was leading the entire room in an extended chorus of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The looks of pleasure on Jennings and Cash’s faces were priceless—as was the million watt smile Cruise flashed when I wandered over to him to “casually” ask what he thought of the band and the guests. “Man, they were rockin’!” he replied. Looks like I scored an interview, not to mention one of those once-in-a-lifetime, gonna-tell-the-grandchildren-some-day moments.

An American anthem, indeed.

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