The bright, beautiful candle of Elizabeth Taylor has slowly burned out, yet her memory remains in everyone's heart and in Country Music. The iconic actress, who passed away Wednesday, was serenaded by one of country music's top groups, the Statler Brothers, in 1985, after they had a hit with 'Elizabeth,' written by group member Jimmy Fortune.
As a new member of the Statler Brothers, this was the first song he ever wrote. "We were on our way to Tulsa Okla., in 1983, and Harold (Reid) and Don (Reid) pulled out the movie 'Giant,' which I had never seen," Jimmy says. "It starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, and some of it was filmed in Virginia (the Statlers' home state, and mostly in Marfa, Texas) so they thought I should see it. We started watching it, and I fell in love with her. Of course I knew who she was, but I wasn't all that familiar with that movie. It became one of my favorites."
In Tulsa, that night after the show, this lady walked up to me and stuck out her hand and said, 'I'm Elizabeth.' I thought to myself that somebody was trying to tell me something. I wrote the song that night, and played it for Harold and Don the next day and they said it would be on the Statlers' first record with me."
'Elizabeth' became the third single off the album 'Today,' and reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard's country singles chart on March 17, 1984. It was the first song by the Statler Brothers to feature Jimmy on lead vocals. He also received Songwriter of the Year honors at the annual Music City News awards for the tune.
"It was the first song I ever wrote .... I was like, 'That was easy enough!' But I found out it wasn't that easy to write No. 1 songs," Jimmy says, laughing. "It was a pretty incredible experience, and being with the Statlers and having a platform to build off of was a huge part of its success."
A couple years later, the Statler Brothers got a call requesting that they perform the song for Elizabeth Taylor herself. "She was filming in Old Tucson, Arizona, a made-for-TV movie called 'Poker Alice,' which also starred George Hamilton. The day we sung it for her was February 24, 1987, which was close to her birthday (February 27), so we sang 'Happy Birthday' to her, too."
Jimmy remembers that Elizabeth couldn't have been nicer to the group. "You see her on TV, and you always hear how pretty she is ... I have to say her eyes were some of the most beautiful blue eyes I ever looked in to. She was gorgeous. To many this Examiner has interviewed, they say Elizabeth's eyes are the most beautiful violet!
"When you think of big stars -- and she's one of the biggest -- you always wonder how they would be to meet. She was so nice and humble. She treated us like we'd been friends forever, carrying on with us and joking, just down to earth. I wasn't expecting that. She was very sweet to us. While I was singing the song I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm sitting here singing for Elizabeth Taylor,' and I was about to flip out. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career."
Some 25 years later, the song was revived by Dailey & Vincent when they recorded it for their Statler Brothers tribute album for Cracker Barrel. The duo received a Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Grammy nomination for 'Elizabeth' this year.
Elizabeth Taylor died March 23 at 79 years old. In addition to 'Giant' and 'Poker Alice,' she starred in numerous movies including 'National Velvet,' 'Butterfield 8,' 'Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' and 'Cleopatra.'
Jimmy, thank you for the tribute to such a glorious star. Your song will always remind us of the talented, selfless softness of The Queen of Film, our beloved Elizabeth Taylor.