Country legend to headline fundraiser at Hemi Hideout

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Often recognized as Loretta Lynn’s younger sister and the woman with the longest hair in America, Crystal Gayle is a star in her own right.

She was the first female country singer to go platinum in album sales, she’s been recognized as one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people and has a treasure trove of Academy of Country Music Awards, American Music Awards and a Grammy for best female vocal performance in 1978. Just a couple of months ago, she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and this weekend she heads to the Lone Star State – and she promises that “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” will be on the set list.

The country crooner will take the stage at 6 p.m. April 28 at Hemi Hideout in Brookshire for the annual Denim and Diamonds Casino Night Fundraiser. Proceeds will go toward academic success programs at Royal ISD. Guests will be treated to a casino, open bar, dinner, live auction and silent auction.

Charlotte Priest, a volunteer for the Royal school district, said she and Gayle – a family friend for 40 years – came up with the idea of a fundraiser after 1,300 families were displaced, school equipment was destroyed and a teacher lost his life in a 2016 flood. Gayle is the godmother to Priest’s son, a student at Royal ISD. Over the years she’s played the Houston Livestock Show and says the area has been good to her.

“I’ve made some wonderful friends,” Gayle said. “No matter where I go, I always see someone I’ve known for years. I’m so fortunate.”

One such longtime friend is her husband Bill Gatzimos, whom she married in 1970. She laughs when asked the secret to their long marriage.

“Oh, if we could bottle it …” she said. “It takes a lot of work, especially when you’re on the road with your kids. You could give up and marry someone else, but then you’re just going to give up on that and marry someone else. We’re willing to do the work.”

These days she hits the studio with her son Chris and is taking her time finalizing a country classics album. She hosted sisters Loretta and Peggy Sue at her Nashville home when she was inducted into the Opry in January.

“We’re supportive of each other,” she said of her relationship with Loretta, the famous “Coal Miner’s Daughter” singer. “I look at the magazines and call her and say, ‘I guess we’re feuding now.’ We work well together. She advised me, ‘Don’t ever sing my songs, and people won’t compare us.’ That was good advice. I don’t sing her songs, and a lot of people don’t even know we’re sisters.”

Gayle does, however, sing her own songs, including “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” which is one of the most frequently-played tunes of the century.

“Who knew?” she said. “It’s a well-written song. I never get tired of it. The writer, Richard Leigh, wrote my very first No. 1 song, which was ‘I’ll Never Get Over You.’ He asked me to listen to some of his other songs. It was just meant to be.”

While the song is one claim to fame, the singer also is known for her hair, which at one time touched the floor. She doesn’t wear wigs; she does get regular trims and although she’s been approached about endorsing hair care products, she said she doesn’t want to endorse something she doesn’t believe in. She said she uses “all types” of shampoos, including L’Oreal and Clairol products.

“I’ve had people come up and grab my hair,” she said, acknowledging that some fans don’t believe it’s real. “In my family all of us could grow hair long and fast. It’s our American Indian blood.”

The humble artist said she listens to current country radio but noted that young singers have a lot of challenges that her generation did not face.

“There are so many that have one hit and you might never hear from them again,” Gayle said. “When I started in this business, they cared for the artist more and helped you try to build a career. It’s hard to do now. They’ve got to hit the stage like they’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

She’s quick to mention how grateful she is to have a long, successful career. The 66-year-old made her first record when she was in high school.

“It feels great to have the success that I’ve had,” Gayle said. “I always knew I was going to be a singer. I didn’t know how or when or where it would happen – it could have just been in church. My mother said I could sing before I could walk.”

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