I have been listening to a lot of classic country music as of late because a Country music compilation CD set that I recently purchased has not left the CD changer in my truck. Chart-topping hits from everyone from Willy Nelson and Hank Williams to Patsy Cline and the Oak Ridge Boys. And of course, “Hello Darlin'” by Conway Twitty was amongst the classic hits. Every time the opening lines of that song flow through the speakers I am reminded of a family vacation from my youth. My parents and I (parents who are not fans of Country music at all mind you) vacationed to Nashville, Tennessee with some of our family friends. Since my whole family loved music, I asked if we could venture into a huge music store off of Music Row. As we walked around the store that night, my mom talked to the owner of the store about how she would love to see Graceland. My father, being from the era that either loved or hated Elvis, scoffed and said that he would not drive another 3 hours just for that. After that eyebrow-raising comment, the store owner suggested we visit the kid friendly (and heck of a lot closer) estate of another Country Music legend whose estate was not as commercialized as Graceland but was a pretty amazing spectacle to see.
A 27-minute ride North on I-65 to Hendersonville, TN brought us to the gates of Twitty City. Twitty City was constructed in 1981 and was the primary residence of Conway Twitty until his untimely death in 1993. Twitty City was not a mini-Graceland because Twitty City was amazing in its own right. There was no comparison. Conway Twitty opened this $3.5 million multi-structure tourist attraction and family compound in 1982. The grounds of the estate (which were a tourist destination year round but became a must see in December due to their elaborate Christmas light display) featured a flowing manmade creek whose crashing sound from countless manmade waterfalls echoed off the brick buildings that sit amongst manicured flower beds and tall trees. I remember the perfect symmetry of the mansion with its massive white columns and a rotund railed porches sitting amongst the other massive homes. Twitty said when he was interviewed on an episode of the iconic 80s TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, “I built Twitty City because I wanted to have a place where my kids and I could always be close together, and they have homes right here. I also wanted a first-class place for country music fans to come to when they come to Nashville, and get as close to an artist as they can get.” I remember walking the grounds, touring the beautiful house, awing at the recording studio and, despite the prepossessing sites spending most of our time in the gift shop.
Sadly, a short while after our trip to Twitty City, Conway Twitty passed away. Rumor has it that his four adult children didn’t get along with his third wife Dee, which after his death led to many fights and lawsuits. Unfortunately for Twitty, when he married his third wife, he neglected to update his will. No one truly wins in situations like that, so Twitty City was liquidated. The estate, recording studio/gift shop, all the kid’s homes, his mother’s home were all sold. Much to the happiness of my Christian mother, the massive estate was purchased by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) to be used as an auxiliary studio and changed its name to Trinity Music City. TBN was founded in 1973 by Paul and Jan Crouch who started their company with one television station in Southern California and expanded it to 38 full-powered television stations, more than 30 networks and currently broadcasts in 14 languages around the world. As of 2017, TBN has poured millions of dollars into the estate formally known as Twitty City where former Republican Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee hosts a talk show where he and his guests discuss political issues. And since they are a mere stone’s throw from Nashville (aka Music City) and record in the home of Conway Twitty, the show has a house band called the “Music City Connection” and features different musicians each week. ]
Over the years, dynamics change. When TBN purchased the compound, the new owners kept the gift shop open and offered tours for many years. Sadly now that interest in tours have waned, and that fact matched with the millions of dollars that TBN is dropping to revamp the facility, any semblance to Twitty City has faded.
Photo of Conway Twitty by United Talent Inc. (management)/MCA Records – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22732661
Conway Twitty Postcard accredited to Source and Wish-you-werent-here-postcards on Tumblr.
Old Twitty City sign (Featured Image) and Twitty City photo accredited to Source and savingcountrymusic.com
Mike Huckabee playing bass guitar at Thomas Road Baptist Church in 2008 accredited to owner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5668973