Although the Americana Music Association’s Honors and Awards are presented annually to artists who embody the spirit of roots-based, alternative forms of country music rather than what’s considered mainstream country, the two paths sometimes cross in unexpected but memorable ways. At this year’s ceremony, held September 22nd at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, country superstar George Strait took the stage to pay tribute to songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who provided the Hall of Famer with several of his best-known hits. He also joined him in a performance of “The King of Broken Hearts,” which first appeared on Lauderdale’s 1991 LP Planet of Love and earned even greater exposure when Strait included it on the Pure Country soundtrack three years later.
Before performing the now-classic tune together (see it around the 12:45 mark above), with Lauderdale providing some honky-tonk harmony to Strait’s smooth country vocal, Strait presented Lauderdale with only the second Wagonmaster’s Award in the organization’s history, noting that the first award was presented in 2007, naturally, to its namesake, Porter Wagoner. As one of Wagoner’s “musical heirs,” Strait said, Lauderdale has excelled as an entertainer, songwriter and awards-show host “wearing suits which Porter would envy.”
In his acceptance speech, Lauderdale acknowledged Strait’s essential role in jumpstarting his songwriting success, which came about with the inclusion of two Lauderdale tunes, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The King of Broken Hearts,” on the soundtrack to Pure Country, which served as Strait’s dramatic film debut in 1994 and is the best-selling album of his career with sales in excess of six million.
“If you have a ballet or an opera, you’ve got to have a benefactor so you can do that kind of stuff,” Lauderdale said, choking up as he added, “So, really George, you were the reason I could make a living, so thank you.”
After accepting his honor, Lauderdale noted that “The King of Broken Hearts” was penned as his tribute to two of his favorite artists, George Jones and Americana pioneer Gram Parsons. The tune was inspired by an article the songwriter read about Parsons hosting a party and crying when he played a Jones record for the guests, telling them, “That’s the king of broken hearts.”