Songwriter a Grammy nominee on first try

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

NEOSHO, Mo. -- Free-lance writer Kay Hively had to be talked into writing her first song.

Imagine her surprise, then, when her initial efforts became part of a Grammy-nominated gospel album.

"It's strange," Hively said. "People devote their life to trying to get people to listen to songs they've written and record songs they've written. They work and work and work. And I was sort of dragged into it. And the first jump out of the box, I wrote a song nominated for a Grammy."

The album, "Two Old Friends," features Merle Haggard and Albert E. Brumley Jr. It was nominated Friday for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album.

Hively, 58, met Brumley while working on "I'll Fly Away," her book about his father, Albert E. Brumley Sr.

The elder Brumley composed the book's namesake song in 1929 while picking cotton. It became one of the most-recorded gospel songs. Mountaineer Books published Hively's book in 1990.

The younger Brumley told Hively she should try her hand at song-writing, but Hively resisted at first. She told Brumley she couldn't sing, play an instrument or even read music.

"He said, 'You write the lyrics, and I'll work on the music,"' Hively said from her Neosho home Sunday night.

Of the songs they created, three were included on the Grammy-nominated album -- "Everybody Knows," "The Old Drover's Prayer" and "Marching Over Jordan."

Until now, most of Hively's work has been nonfiction. She's written other books and has been published in Sesame Street Magazine, the Ozarks Mountaineer and Missouri Game and Fish. She also writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.

Her current project is a series of eight-chapter stories targeted at children. The nonfiction serials feature a child as the star and are running in many of Missouri's newspapers, she said.

"I'm a nonfiction writer," she said. "That's what I think I do best. But I've never won a top nonfiction award, so who knows."

Haggard, who has been nominated for a Grammy more than 20 times, had praise for the fledgling songwriter.

"Kay wrote a couple really nice things for it with Al, and I'm proud for her, too," he said.

Haggard and Brumley produced the record along with Haggard's fiddle player, Abe Manuel Jr. Production was done at Haggard's studio, located near his home in Palo Cedro, Calif., and the two were backed up by Haggard's band, The Strangers.

Hively said the credit for her Grammy nomination belongs to Brumley for giving her the opportunity to take part in the project.

"I like Merle, and Merle can make a lot of things happen," she said, "but I wouldn't have done anything like this if it hadn't been for Al. He gave me the chance to participate in all of this. Just the thrill of it is something."

The 44th annual Grammy Awards ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 27 in Los Angeles.

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