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David Ball Remembers JFK, Performs at Kennedy Center

Posted by Scott Metko on August 1, 2017 at 9:15 PM

By Dan Armonaitis

Arts & Entertainment Writer

Posted May 24, 2017 at 10:53 AM

Country music star David Ball was 10 years old and a student at Pine Street Elementary School in Spartanburg when, on Nov. 22, 1963, he and his classmates received the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

“School had just ended and, gosh, I remember a kid came in and said, ‘President Kennedy has been shot,’” Ball recalled earlier this week by phone from his home outside Nashville, Tenn. “It kind of shocked us all then, but when you’re that young I don’t think you realize you’re going to always remember that. It was, of course, such a terrible thing to happen.”

I reached out to Ball after learning that he was scheduled to perform this week on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as part of a series of events in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy, who was born May 29, 1917.

“Everybody loved John Kennedy,” Ball said. “What a charismatic guy and what a great president. He was fantastic, so it’s a privilege to go up there (to the Kennedy Center) and celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.”

Ball said his hourlong performance, which will be presented at 6 p.m. Wednesday in collaboration with JFK Centennial Week and live streamed online at, would feature such favorites as his 1993 honky-tonk classic, “Thinkin’ Problem,” and the 2001 hit, “Riding with Private Malone.” The latter, written by Wood Newton and Thom Shepherd, should be particularly poignant given its heart-wrenching storyline involving a deceased solider and the fact that Memorial Day is just around the corner.

“I’ve always been one of those guys who’s all about ‘the song,’ and ‘Private Malone’ certainly ranks right up there with some of the classics,” Ball said. “It’s a great country song but it’s also got other things going on in it. It’s really a tribute to the guys who fought in Vietnam.”

Ball is a spokesperson for Operation Troop Aid, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide care packages for deployed U.S. service members. Last year, he was presented with the Operation Troop Aid Chris Kyle “Patriot Award” in recognition of his support of the organization.

Along with the late Walter Hyatt and the late Champ Hood, Ball was a founding member the seminal acoustic outfit Uncle Walt’s Band, which originally formed in Spartanburg in the early 1970s.

Champ’s son, fiddle virtuoso Warren Hood, is slated to be among those accompanying Ball for the Kennedy Center performance.

“I thought it would be something that Warren would like to be part of,” Ball said. “I know he’ll fit right in.”

The last time Ball performed at the prestigious venue was in 1997 when he was among those celebrating the music of Bob Dylan, who was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient that year along with actress Lauren Bacall, actor Charlton Heston, opera singer Jessye Norman and ballet dancer Edward Viella.

“Oh man, it was kind of unreal,” Ball said of the experience. “I’m a movie buff, especially the old ’40s and ’50s films, so to get to see Lauren Bacall, that was such a treat. And I got to talk to Gregory Peck for a long time backstage. And Joanne Woodward was there, and I even got to talk to Walter Cronkite.”

Ball sang “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” that evening as Dylan watched from a box seat near President Bill Clinton.

“I remember seeing Bill Clinton up there clapping his hands,” Ball said.

Ball said he also remembers having a lengthy backstage conversation that night with Bruce Springsteen, who performed a Dylan song as well.

“Springsteen and I talked forever,” Ball said. “He kept talking about Faron Young and how much he loved the country music out of the ’50s and ’60s, which is kind of my bag too.”

Ironically, Ball’s return to the Kennedy Center occurred on Dylan’s 76th birthday.

“Oh, is that right?” Ball said when I informed him. “We’ll have to do him a song.”

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