Ever since she lit out for Nashville 24 years ago, Terri Clark hoped she’d have the kind of career that landed her in places like the Grand Ole Opry — where she’s the only Canadian member — or on a wall at the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in Calgary.
On Tuesday, Clark was honoured at the National Music Centre, where she was presented with an official plaque formalizing her entry into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Her entry was originally announced back in September by Keith Urban at the CCMA Awards.
The honour came a little ahead of schedule.
“I thought they’d have to escort me and my walker up on stage to accept an award like that,” Clark said, in a Tuesday interview with Terri Campbell on The Homestretch.
Instead of a walker, Clark, still in the midst of a stellar career that has seen her win 8 Female Artist of the Year Canadian Country Music Awards, 5 Fans’ Choice Award CCMAs, 3 Junos and record 11 albums that have sold 5 million copies around the world, strolled up to the podium on her own two legs.
She was in tears, a little, after CCMA President Tracy Martin referenced how proud Clark’s late mother Linda would have been to see her daughter inducted into the CCMA Hall of Fame.
“She was instrumental in all this happening, my biggest cheerleader — and my hero,” Clark said, of her mom.
Earlier, in an interview with Terri Campbell on The Homestretch, Clark expanded on her feelings — and shared a pretty cool story about how her mom helped her deal with one of those periodic heartbreaks the music industry serves up.
“It’s really an honour. I don’t know how else to put it,” she said. “It’s one of those moments in your career that’s a surreal moment. It was the same thing when I became a Grand Ole Opry member: that meant the world to me, too.
“And this is on par with that.”
The event was the first part of Clark’s residency at the National Music Centre.
Wednesday at 4 p.m., Clark will be back, where she’ll mentor a trio of emerging songwriters, including Tracy Bone from the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation in southwestern Manitoba, Vancouver singer-songwriter Shylo Sharity, and Calgary-based Mariya Stokes.
There will be a songwriters circle featuring their work, followed by a short performance by Clark.
But just as instructive and encouraging as awards are, Clark’s origin story was inspired by a contest she entered in Calgary back in 1995 that didn’t go the way she anticipated.
She was a 17-year-old aspiring singer from Medicine Hat. There was a talent contest in Calgary, sponsored by the Canadian Country Music Association and Budweiser, with the winner receiving a recording contract.
Clark performed — and as usual, killed it.
“Everybody backstage were patting me on the back saying, ‘you won this,'” she said. “We’re all going to go to dinner.”
“They read off second place, third place and then the winner, and my name was nowhere,” she said. “My mom and I just drove back to Medicine Hat absolutely heartbroken, and she said I’m taking you to Nashville. Don’t worry about it. And we cried and I thought if I can’t even place in this contest, how am I going to make it in Nashville?”
What advice will she offer to the trio of young songwriters she mentors Wednesday, who are all probably dreaming a version of what she did when she lit out for Nashville as a 17 year old?
“Each person has an individual journey. It’s very personal and somebody whose journey is not going to look like mine, so they could end up going down paths and roads that I didn’t,” she said.
It turned out that that Nashville happy ending didn’t happen overnight for Clark.
“I was coming up with a lot of Plan B’s in my head,” she said. “I was married at the time and we were struggling to make ends meet.
“I was waiting tables and selling cowboy boots and Western apparel and he was a land surveyor and we were really struggling,” she adds, “and I thought God, I’m gonna have to find a way to actually make a real living at some point.
“But it eventually happened. You know all of those years in Medicine Hat visualizing it [helped make it] happen.”
Now, 24 years later, there’s an exhibition of her career on display at the National Music Centre, which includes three of her guitars, various memorabilia and a handwritten letter from Garth Brooks written to her in 1995.
“When they put you in a museum and they have stuff on the wall and your guitars and stuff it’s almost like, oh my God I thought I’d have to be dead for this,” she said.
But back for a moment, to that talent show that broke Clark’s heart as a 17-year-old — or more precisely, to a moment 10 years later, when Clark got nominated for a bunch of CCMA Awards.
“One of the people who was a judge in that [1995 talent] contest told me I got disqualified because I was 17 and it was sponsored by Budweiser,” Clark said.
“And nobody told me.”
With files from The Homestretch