Sherryl Henkel was forty years old when she moved to Nashville in 1972. She had nothing in her pockets but twenty thousand bucks and a dream to sing. For years, people back home in Alabama had told her she had a unique voice and encouraged her to leave town to sing somewhere else like Nashville.
She was only in town for two months when she heard about a new music festival called Fan Fair, now known as CMA Fest. She immediately called an acquaintance from home who worked at the Country Music Association (CMA) office. Not wanting to come across aggressive, Henkel simply told her friend that she was in town if they needed performers. Henkel recalls, “My friend, who had heard me sing a number of times, just laughed and said she would keep that in mind. I never heard from her again.”
Henkel was sure she would get asked to play in '73, but the call never came. In '74, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She told reporters, "I didn't want to come right out and ask to play, so I came up with some subtle little ways to show them I was interested. That's how it all got started."
In 1975, she showed up outside the CMA office in a bikini and sang a capella for four hours before the police showed up. In 1978, she hired a plane to fly over the CMA office picnic with a banner with her photo and number. Unfortunately, the plane crashed in a nearby field.
In 1984, she mailed herself to the CMA building and infiltrated their office. She handed out as many demo cassettes as possible before she was arrested for trespassing. A restraining order was issued then later dropped when she began dating an unnamed executive in the office. That relationship lasted until the spring of '85 when she began hinting about performing at the festival.
Her closest call came in 2011 when she successfully snuck backstage of the CMA Fest’s Late Night Jam dressed as Dolly Parton. She convinced the crew she was the famous singer and was about to take the stage when the real Dolly showed up and she was tackled by Marty Stuart.
Henkel, now 87, is more hopeful than ever she will one day be asked to play the elusive festival. She told reporters she re-branded herself in January as the "Country Singing Granny' to draw the CMA's attention, but did not see herself on the published lineup of performers for 2019. Henkel said, “Sure, I was surprised they didn't call again this year, but that's okay. I may just show up this year. Watch out, CMA Fest. The Country Singing Granny is coming and it’s gonna be a hootenanny!”
The CMA did not respond to our requests for comment but will reportedly have additional security at all stage entrances.
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