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Musician returns to ‘adopted’ hometown

Whispering Bill Anderson to perform in Commerce

POSTED: November 14, 2013 11:21 a.m.

More than 50 years ago, country music singer-songwriter Bill Anderson sat on top of a hotel roof in Commerce with his guitar on a clear August night when he wrote the song “City Lights” in pencil on the back of an envelope from the radio station where he worked.

The song launched an extremely successful career and Anderson has since produced hits like “Po’ Folks,” “Mama Sang a Song,” “The Tips of My Fingers,” “8X10” and “Still.” His songs have been recorded by artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lawrence Welk, Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Walter Brennan and others.

His breathy voice and soft style of singing earned him the moniker “Whispering Bill Anderson.”

Aside from being a million-record selling artist several times over, Anderson has worn many hats in his career including television game show host, soap opera star and spokesman for a nationwide restaurant chain. He has been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Georgia Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame, South Carolina Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and, the most prestigious, the Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame.

But through all of his success, Anderson never forgot about his adopted hometown of Commerce. At 7 p.m. Saturday, he will play a benefit concert at Commerce High School to help raise funds for the Bill Anderson Scholarship, which is awarded to one student at the school each year based on scholastic interest and financial need to help pay for college. He will perform with Joey+Rory and T. Graham Brown.

Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at WJJC radio station, www.wjjc.net or 706-335-3155, or at the downtown Commerce branch of Community Bank and Trust.

The Times had the chance to ask him a few questions about his career and upcoming concert:

Question: What is your favorite thing about songwriting and performing?

Answer: Connecting with people. Putting them in touch with their feelings ... whether it’s to make them laugh, cry or just think about things. When I am touching their feelings, I am also touching my own.

Q: What can people attending your show in Commerce expect?

A: A show similar to what they might see at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. It will be primarily acoustical in nature, all three acts on stage at the same time, swapping songs back and forth and telling the stories behind the songs. Very informal, laid back and, hopefully, entertaining. 

Q: What is the Bill Anderson Scholarship and why did you start it?

A: We give financial aid every year to a deserving senior student graduating from Commerce High School. I know how expensive college tuition can be these days, and I know sometimes that just a few dollars can make a difference as to whether a student is able to further their education or not. I am a big believer in education, and if I can make a small difference in a student’s life, then I want to do it. 

Q: It’s been over 50 years since you wrote “City Lights” on the roof of that hotel in Commerce. What does that song and the city of Commerce mean to you today?

A: “City Lights” was my jumping-off-place as a songwriter. Everything good that has happened to me in my career began with that song. Commerce and the radio station there and the people there gave me my start by believing in me. I’m not the kind of person who forgets where he came from. I wasn’t born or raised in Commerce, but I adopted it as my “hometown” because they first “adopted” me.

Q: What is your greatest memory from your career thus far?

A: It would probably be a toss-up between the night I joined the Grand Ole Opry and the night I was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The two events were a half-century apart, but they sort of “book-end” my career. I’m not sure that I could choose one over the other. They were both dreams come true.


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