September 15, 2011– Russ Taff joined past and present members of the Gaither Vocal Band onstage at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville for a special reunion concert that from all accounts, was the highlight of the week. The 23 song set included Russ leading David Phelps, Marshall Hall and Bill Gaither through a rocking rendition of “New Hope Road,” followed by a poignant solo turn on “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”
A private dinner and rehearsal session at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown the night before turned into more of a ‘family reunion’ as former members Steve Green, Gary McSpadden, Larnelle Harris, Marshall Hall, John Mohr, Buddy Mullins, Jim Murray and Lee Young laughed together, sang together and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with each other.
Sept. 2, 2011— Russ Taff joined the list of such diverse luminaries as Johnny Cash, President Bill Clinton, Evangelist Rex Humbard, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Dr. James Dobson and Maya Angelou as he was inducted into the Arkansas Walk of Fame on Saturday. The Walk of Fame was established in 1996 to honor persons born or raised in Arkansas who have made a significant contribution in their fields and are recognized nationally for their work. The ceremony was held at the RayLynn Theater in Taff’s hometown of Hot Springs, with the unveiling of the plaque immediately following. Inducted also was veteran Hollywood character actor Brent Jennings, who has appeared in movies with Denzel Washington, Robert Redford, Eddie Murphy and Harrison Ford.
Mayor Ruth Carney presented Russ with a framed proclamation officially declaring September 3rd as “Russ Taff Day.” Taff was joined by friends and family members including Bud and June Smedley who took Russ into their home when he was 17 years old. June, Russ’ former English teacher, spoke movingly at the ceremony of the lifelong bond that formed between them, and recounted a few funny stories about the adjustments required when the fiery son of a Pentecostal preacher joins a family of mild-mannered Methodists.
A personal message from Russ’ friend and mentor Bill Gaither was read, as well as a congratulatory note from fellow Arkansan James Hollihan, who began playing in a band with Russ when they were both still in high school, and went on to become a noted guitarist, writer and producer. Long-time friend Jim Pennington also spoke, as well as Otto Beck. Russ performed two songs, then thanked the participants and the city of Hot Springs, noting tearfully, “This town was good for a young man who had a dream. The encouragement I got from people around me made me. I prayed this morning that maybe one person would pass by this plaque in the ground and be inspired, and it could spark them to follow their dreams, too.”
L to R: Tom Wilkins, owner of RayLynn Theater, Russ Taff, Charlotte Taff, Kim Smedley Masino, June Smedley, Bud Smedley, Carolyn Spillers