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Hattie Louise Tootsie Bess


Tootsie's Orchid Lounge

It is said that Tootsie kept a cigar box behind the counter at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge that was full of IOU's from having given food to hungry pickers and writers. Supposedly, at each year's end, a bunch of Opry performers would take all those IOU's and pay Tootsie so she wouldn't lose the money.
The stories are legend about the number of songwriters and Grand Ole Opry artists whose careers received a boost from Tootsie Bess. In 1960 Louise Bess bought a bar on lower Broadway in Nashville called Mom's and changed its name to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. It soon became a haven for songwriters and singers largely because the back door to the bar conveniently opened unto the alley directly across from the stage door of the Ryman Auditorium, which in those days, hosted the Grand Ole Opry. Today that humble establishment is a living piece of Nashville history and it's the most famous honky-tonk in the world.

A singer and comedienne with her husband, Jeff Bess' Big Jeff and the Radio Playboys, Tootsie recorded a couple of singles, but her real contribution to the Nashville music scene was her compassion for and generosity to the struggling songwriters who were her regular patrons - Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, Tom T Hall, Hank Cochran, Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Harlan Howard, Patsy Cline and many more. It is rumored that Roger Miller wrote, "Dang Me" in Tootsie's and Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after singing at Tootsies.

Tootsie Bess passed away in 1978. Her legacy lives on in the dozens of songs from the prolific pens of the songwriters whose careers she fostered and the stories of the Grand Ole Opry stars who always received a welcome at her back door.

Tootsie Bess died February 18, 1978

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