I have read and heard some unfavorable comments since the [September 22, 1999] CMA Awards show. Once again I find Joni, Jimmy and Michael are the topic of distasteful gossip in this town.
People are wondering and commenting as to why no one accepted our father’s award as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Some have said it is because we were being difficult. I can assure you that is untrue. Let me set the record straight:
Let me start at the beginning. We found out through the grapevine about Dad’s induction. No one called from the CMA or from Dad's estate offices to inform us. I called the CMA offices to see if it were true. They confirmed that Dad had indeed been chosen and would be inducting him into the Hall of Fame in September.
At that point I gave them our phone numbers and told them that we (his children) would like to be included in the preparation and to be present on award night. They told me that the usual rule was that they dealt with the spouse of a deceased artist. I told them that we did not care if Dee was there, but since Daddy had died we were always excluded.
There were only a few exceptions: When Dolly Parton put Dad in her memorial garden and when the ROPE [Reunion of Professional Entertainers] Awards honored him. Both of them insisted that we were all welcome. Dee objected, but they stood firm. In the end. Dee did not attend either of them.
The sad truth is that ninety-nine percent of the time we are never told of tributes to Dad. Since his death, Dee has been present and accepted awards all across the country on his behalf and she has kept these awards.
These awards are property of the Conway Twitty Estate that my brothers and sister inherited from our father. When I suggested to her that she return them, her answer was "They give them to me." I told her “No, they give them to Dad."
In his will he left us his entire estate, including the rights to his famous name, image and music. As hard as our father’s widow has tried to destroy his will by contesting it, after an over six year, multi-million-dollar battle, the appellate courts upheld his will and those properties will go to his children, just as he intended.
The appellate courts, along with our father, gave us the power to control this legendary name, image and music and no one can represent the name Conway Twitty without permission of the Estate.
We are the ultimate owners and Dee cannot accept any award without permission. We told the CMA this, Dee knows this, yet the CMA informed us they would have to take this to their committee. Our attorneys explained once again the situation, even sending them copies of the will as well as the ruling from the appellate court. Dee could not represent without permission.
They then informed us through our attorneys that they had forgotten; that they had a new policy that no one would accept on the behalf of a deceased artist.
Why had they not told us this in the beginning? It seemed to me that if Dee could not accept the award, no one was going to. I personally objected, telling them through our attorney that I felt this was disrespectful to Daddy's memory; that it would be wrong for no one to represent Dad at such a moment. We suggested a compromise: That one or all of his grandchildren accept instead of the adults involved. They refused.
We did not want any bad press to fall on our fathers time in the spotlight. So we handled all of this through attorneys and as quietly and tactfully as we could. We told the CMA we did not want to bring them into our estate problems. The truth is the fight is over and we won. All that is left is determining Dee's one-third.
But the CMA did not stay neutral. They put the camera on Dee with a caption underneath that said she was Dad's widow. They put the camera on Joni, Jimmy and Michael and there was no caption. [Editor’s note: I, Stacy Harris have a different memory of this, but I don’t have a videotape of the program].
No one knew Conway Twitty's children were there to support him. The CMA knew where his family was sitting. They knew their names. It looked as if Conway Twitty's children were not present.
Then the final act of disrespect came the next day. The CMA, along with the Country Music Hall of Fame, held a private luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion. (The man from the Hall of Fame who put all this together now works for the Ear Foundation. They, along with Dee put together a tribute to Dad and not only were we not invited, but we had to sneak in under false names. When we questioned them as to why they chose to exclude us there answer was "they felt they had Conway's closest living relative." )
Back to the event at the Governor’s mansion: They did not invite my brothers, sister nor myself, yet they did invite Dee and she accepted an award on his behalf. It is amazing to me that they would blatantly show such favoritism. They knew the situation. But they chose to ignore us, causing us once again to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity to be present when our father was being awarded.
It is a fact that we are the ones our father chose to represent him after his death. Doesn't anyone care what he wanted? Dad would be furious at all of this. He was very specific in his will: He intended for his bloodline for many many generations to carry on his life's work. Anyone who does not follow his wishes is dishonoring his memory. The CMA and Hall of Fame included.
I chose not to attend the awards for three reasons: First, I stayed at home with our mother. This was a very emotional night for her. She and Daddy created his legacy together. They were married nearly 30 years and through their hard work and sacrifice Conway Twitty became the legend that was being honored.
Second, we were only given four tickets to the CMA Awards show. There are four of us. My younger brother Jimmy would not go without his wife of eleven years. I could not have enjoyed the show if he were not there. We ask the CMA for just one more ticket for Stacy, but they refused, although they did give Dee an extra ticket, so I gave my brother my ticket.
Third, I was and am disgusted with the way the CMA, along with the Hall of Fame, treated my family during all of this. In my opinion, they caused the situation to be inflamed by choosing sides. How did they expect us to react?
I remained silent until the gossip started, but I will not sit quietly by while my family is misrepresented by the very people who handled this so badly. I told the CMA this and I will tell you: Dad himself would not have shown up if his children were being mistreated. He never treated us disrespectfully and never allowed anyone else to, including Dee. But since the day he left this world, in my opinion, she has released her resentment and contempt of her late husband's family with a vengeance. She knew better than to do this in his presence. He would never have allowed it.
She seems to be angry with us for defending his will in the courts. Angry that we won in the higher courts. But I believe with all my heart that when she contested Dad's will, she attacked my father. And when she represents him at any awards show she is disobeying the final wishes of his will.
It completely baffles me as to why she doesn't seem to care what he wanted. She loves to tell of this unsigned will to confuse and convince people that he would want her to fight us. I don't buy it at all. I know better. I feel she is dishonoring him instead.
I watched her as the camera scanned the audience after the CMA played the video tribute to Daddy the other night. Everyone stood up to honor our father but Dee. Joni, Jimmy and Michael stood with tears streaming down their faces. But Dee sat dry eyed and for some reason she was unable to bring herself to her feet.
Sitting at home, I was not surprised: Six and one half years of fighting her has made me wise. In my opinion, I haven’t seen her honor him yet.
For Immediate Release
Contact Brenda Little
Attorney at Law
209 Tenth Avenue South
Nashville, Tennessee 37202
After six long years of battling to preserve their father’s Last Will & Testament In the trial courts, Conway’s children received confirmation that their fight has not been in vain. They won on three out of five issues. These substantial victories will help to keep Conway Twitty’s musical legacy in his bloodlines as his will instructed.
The first victory was over a very critical issue concerning the widow’s elective share of the estate. Dee Henry Jenkins, their father’s widow, had demanded in the lower court and was receiving a majority share of the estate. Dee Henry Jenkins, their father’s widow, had demanded in the lower court and was receiving a majority share of her late husband’s estate. The estate executors and their attorneys stood with the widow and against Conway’s children on the issue. Brenda Little, lead counsel on behalf of the children, told the court that anything above the one third allotted to a surviving spouse not named in a Will "flew in the face of Tennessee law." The Appellate Court agreed.
The second victory came when the Appellate Court upheld the children’s request that the widow not be allowed to take one third of the property settlement allotted to Conway Twitty’s first wife of 30 years, Mickey Jenkins.
The third victory was on the issue of the widow receiving double the income she should have on the late superstar’s royalties. Again, the executors and the attorneys stood with the widow on this issue. The Appellate Court judges explained in their ruling that the surviving spouse was receiving money from both the royalties and the appraised value of these royalties. They further stated, "We decline to approve such a method of distribution that allows the surviving spouse to ‘double-dip.’" The Appellate court agreed for a third time with the children of the late superstar and overturned the ruling.
Conway’s children are thrilled with these rulings, but this is not the first time they have sought justice from the Appellate Court of Tennessee. Previously, they appeared before the Appellate Court when the estate executors had accused them of owing their father thousands of dollars at his death. The executors won in the lower court but the Appellate Court overturned that decision, claiming that the executor’s proof was not credible. "It cost us almost as much to fight on this issue as they claimed we owed," Kathy Twitty stated. "But we were fighting on principal. The charges were false and the Appellate Court agreed, and we were vindicated."
Conway Twitty died on June 5, 1993 leaving a Last Will & Testament naming his four adult children as his sole heirs. Shortly after his death, his wife of six years who Conway had provided for substantially outside of his Will, challenged his final wishes by contesting his Will. Battle lines were drawn and a very private issue became a very expensive and very public battle.
"This was a war we had to fight," commented Joni Twitty after receiving news of their victory. We knew from the beginning when our father’s widow began to ask for and receive more than her share allowed by law that our father’s estate could easily be bankrupted. This would have destroyed all he worked for. Nothing on earth could have stopped us from fighting for what our father wanted. So we dug in our heels and fought back on Dad’s behalf. We have sacrificed everything we have to keep our fight alive. After all he did for us, we both feel that this is the least we can do for him."
Conway’s daughters have felt so strongly about the way their father’s Last Will & Testament has been literally destroyed in the courts that they testified before the Tennessee State Laws governing a dissenting spouse. "Although the changes in the law will not help us, they will help prevent other families from going through the same hell that we’ve been forced to go through," Joni added. "The new law was appropriately named ‘The Conway Twitty Amendment.’
Kathy Twitty agreed with her sister. "It’s not over yet. W still have some important issues to address, but this victory is big and it gives us hope. It makes us more determined than ever to see that our father’s legacy remains in his bloodline and that it be placed safely in a trust as his Will instructed so that we can pass it on to his grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on as it should be."
Ironically, Conway’s children received word of their victory on Father’s Day. "We took more than just flowers to our father’s grave this Father’s Day," Kathy continued, "we took him justice."