T.J. Martell Foundation Celebrates 12th Annual Nashville Honors Gala

Reba McEntireVince GillCeCe WinansRascal FlattsWade HayesMichael Rayand Carly Pearce were on hand to celebrate some of T.J. Martell Foundation’s biggest supporters on Monday evening (Feb. 24) during the 12th Annual Nashville Honors Gala. The night recognized Dr. Jordan Berlin, Patrick G. Emery, Laurie and Jim Seabury, Amy Grant and Clint Higham while raising $1 million for cancer research.

For two hours, over dinner and a live auction, members of the Nashville music industry gathered at Music City’s Omni Hotel to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Actor Charles Esten served as host for the eighth year and introduced Wade Hayes to the stage to perform “Go Live Your Life” in honor of Dr. Jordan Berlin, a medical oncologist who specializes in gastrointestinal (GI) malignancies and new drug development; Berlin received the medical research advancement award.

“What do you say to a guy you literally owe your life to?” Hayes said, crediting Berlin for allowing him to be clear of cancer for seven years. “I thank God for you. Here’s a tune I wrote after our meeting that day.” Following his performance, Berlin’s colleagues, Dr. Dana B. Cardin and Dr. Laura Goff, presented his award.

“I honestly can’t tell you how humbled and honored I am to be here and to receive this award. This is one of the most special days of my life,” Berlin said. “I work with a team that works together and helps each other out and continues to make life better for cancer patients … At the end of the day, I can’t wait to go back and work that much harder for my patients.”

Ahead of Emery’s recognition for the spirit of Nashville award, CeCe Winans performed an inspired rendition of Kris Kristofferson's “Why Me Lord.” Thomas T. Raney then presented the real estate developer with his trophy. Delivering an emotional speech in honor of his late wife, Kitty, Emery said that he believed in all that T.J. Martell Foundation does following he and his wife’s respective battles with cancer. “Without hope, there’s not much out there… Thank you, T.J. Martell. Kitty, here’s one for you, baby.”  

Rascal Flatts honored Laurie and Jim Seabury ahead of their lifetime humanitarian award with a spirited performance of “Fast Cars and Freedom.” The pair was recognized for their involvement in countless charity work throughout the Nashville community and beyond. They were presented the award by their friend, Dr. C. Wright Pinson.

“I had cancer nine years ago… and I can still talk reasonably,” Jim said, explaining that the cancer was cut out of his neck and throat. “At the end of the day, our parents endowed us with a giving spirit, so we want to thank our parents for giving us a giving spirit. What we hope we leave with our kids is that same giving spirit. Thank you for the award and thank you for the recognition.”

Gill later took the stage to perform for honoree Amy Grant with their 18-year-old daughter, Corrina. During a stripped-down performance of “When My Amy Prays,” Gill sang the poignant ballad while his daughter sat beside him on piano. Following a video that included congratulatory messages from Paul Simon, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor and Scott Hamilton, among others, McEntire presented Grant with the Tony Martell outstanding entertainment achievement award, praising the gospel singer as being a light. “As long as I’ve known you, you have radiated a light very special. Vince, thanks for sharing Amy with us.”

“That was so much fun to hear all that! It’s so great to be alive and it’s not happening at my funeral,” Grant joked upon taking the podium to accept her award. “I’m so grateful to be here tonight like this… I love how all of our stories intersect in this town and that’s the beautiful thing about a night like tonight. We get to feel some of the connectedness of our community.

“I do think that the combination of intelligence and creativity and community and philanthropy that comes because of Nashville, because of the giftedness that has come into this place -- it’s creating a kind of energy that is nowhere else in the world,” she continued. “I do believe that scientific strides will be made here, that the world will be changed in unimaginable ways because of our generosity, our effort, and because all of us in this room tonight have already learned that if we give what we have there will always be enough.”

The final award of the evening was presented to Clint Higham, business partner and president of Morris Higham Management. Fittingly, the Joel A. Katz music is medicine chairman’s award was given to the music industry executive by Katz, the founding chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s Global Entertainment and Media Practice. Ahead of being presented his honor, Michael Ray and Carly Pearce performed a stunning cover of Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan’s “Til a Tear Becomes a Rose.”

“Visionary is what I think about when I think about Clint Higham,” Ray said. “Clint, you have the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known. You’ve changed all of our lives … your belief in me has changed my life.”

Added Katz, “He’s smart, he’s fair, but best of all he’s really kindhearted. And lucky for him, he found a career in the music business because his true and real passion is music. He’s always front and center at his client’s shows, singing along and moving to the beat… He’s a true role model for everyone who has had the good fortune of being included in Clint’s friendship circle. On behalf of the T.J. Martell Foundation, it is with great pride and with great admiration that we congratulate him on this milestone. Clint, tonight we celebrate you in your individual and collective contributions to our success.”

As Higham took the stage, he was surprised by Kenny Chesney, who raved about his manager of 27 years. “I’ve always felt that music has always been medicine in my life… I could have went down a lot of roads with a lot of people, but Clint and I have went down every single one of them together and I’m proud of that,” Chesney said.

Higham admitted that he was “humbled” and “a little embarrassed” to stand on the stage and to accept the award. “To receive this honor from you, Joel means the world,” said Higham, who has been involved with T.J. Martell Foundation since 2001. “Being honored for something I do because I have been blessed really seems overwhelming. The real honorees are the folks at T.J. Martell who support those fighting the cancer battle and doing research to find a cure.”

T.J. Martell Foundation formed in 1975 by record label executive Tony Martell following the death of his 19-year-old son from leukemia and has since raised more than $280 million.

Please click here to see the original article in Billboard.