''How-dee!!! I'm just so proud to be here!''
Born on October 25, 1912 in Centerville, TN, Sarah Ophelia Colley, the little girl who would grow up to become Minnie Pearl, was the youngest of five daughters. Her parents were financially comfortable until the Depression hurt her father's lumber business. At that time young ''Ophie'' was a high school senior with big dreams.
She had been a performer since learning to pick out a few notes on the piano at age 18 months. As she'd grown up, she'd discovered that not only could she sing and play piano, but she could make people laugh. She chose to attend the fashionable Ward-Belmont College for young ladies (now co-ed Belmont University) in Nashville, TN. There, she felt uncomfortable around all the rich girls and longed to go home, until one day she sat down at a piano to ''play the blues away.'' She thought she was alone, but discovered she had an audience of two senior girls who said, ''Don't stop playing on account of us. We think you're great!'' She was voted ''Most Humorous'' by the time she graduated.
After her college graduation, she went back to Centerville, but she was miserable teaching drama. She was acquainted with the Sewell Production Company, which put on plays in small towns throughout the South at that time. She wrote a letter to the president of the company and soon had a job traveling from town to town directing plays. This was her job for six years.
During that time, she met the character who inspired ''Minnie Pearl.'' On a dreary, snowy evening, she went to an Alabama mountain town to put on a play as scheduled. The organization that had scheduled the play never dreamed she'd actually show up in such bad weather. They were unprepared for her visit, but found an old mountain lady and her family who were glad to take the young drama coach in for awhile. Miss Colley had no idea that she was meeting the woman who would be the inspiration for the character who would become her alter-ego.
Over the time she worked for the Sewell Production Company, she created the Minnie Pearl character, using country names she'd heard all her life. She used ''Grinder's Switch''as the name of Minnie Pearl's home. In real life, Miss Colley grew up near a place called Grinder's Switch, a little railroad ''switch'' where trains changed tracks.
Eventually, she left the career of drama coach behind to become ''Minnie Pearl'' to audiences around the world. She became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1940. In her lifetime she traveled to many countries to perform for the armed services. Her sweet country character was beloved by many and was recognized everywhere. In his book, ''Memories,'' Ralph Emery told the story that in 1960, someone drew a picture of a hat with a price tag on a stamped envelope and dropped it into a mailbox in Los Angeles. Minnie Pearl received that envelope at the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1946, Miss Colley became Mrs. Henry Cannon. Henry was the love of her life and the two were hardly separated. He was a pilot who flew her to performances almost nightly for twenty-seven years. In 1967, a forced landing made them decide to slow down.
Minnie Pearl was on the very first ''Hee Haw'' show, and became a regular on the thirteenth show. Her most memorable sketches were the schoolhouse sketch, the quilting bee, and the Hee Haw All-Jug Band. She stayed on the show until it ceased production in 1992.
Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon was a fine, cultured, gracious Southern lady. Minnie Pearl was a kind, funny, lovable American institution. Minnie Pearl even had roses named for her. Offstage, Sarah Cannon was known for her impeccable fashion sense and decorating style. She enjoyed playing tennis and swimming. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1975. She performed regularly on the Grand Ole Opry until she couldn't perform any longer. In 1990, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought the disease and later spoke publicly about her battle. Her openness led to more awareness of the disease and its treatment and prevention. Mrs. Cannon was a generous woman who gave of her time and money to several charities, including the Humane Society, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Her name is associated with several HCA/Tri-Star hospitals in the Nashville area, with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center. Their slogan is a quote of hers, ''Cancer can change your life in the drop of a hat.''
She died Monday, March 4, 1996 of complications from a stroke. She is buried in Franklin, TN. Her husband, Henry, died in November 1997. They had no children, but were survived by several nieces and nephews and many friends.
Photos of Sarah Cannon's home and the cancer centers named in her honor
Henry and Sarah Cannon lived in this home just south of Nashville in the upscale Forest Hills neighborhood, next door to the Tennessee Governor's Mansion.
This is the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at Centennial Medical Center near downtown Nashville.
This display hangs in the waiting room of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center in Skyline Medical Center, north of downtown Nashville. (I apologize for the photo quality!) Two of her hats are included in the display as well as a poem and several pictures.
Buy Minnie Pearl merchandise at the Minnie Store
Minnie Pearl Links
www.country.com - the Country Music Hall of Fame page
The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation
The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center
See a picture of the Minnie Pearl rose
See Minnie Pearl's grave
A fan's Minnie Pearl page
Classicphotos.com picture of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff
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