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Tootsie Bess

  • Legendary former owner of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway in Nashville
  • Support icon for such artists as Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, Kris Kristofferson, and Patsy Cline

Born in 1914 in Hohenwald, Tenn., Hattie Louise "Tootsie" Bess was a well-known and loved member of Nashville's music scene. In 1960, she purchased a bar called Mom's on Lower Broadway which backed up to the legendary Ryman Auditorium. Opry announcer Grant Turner said, "You could leave Tootsie's at 7:58 and still be on stage at the Opry at 8 o'clock." Many Opry performers did just that.

Without her, musicians and performers like Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, or Hank Williams may not have reached the heights of stardom that they did. Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after singing at Tootsie's.

Tootsie would hire down-on-their-luck writers and pickers, feeding them while they worked and often slipping $5 and $10 bills in their pockets. She kept a cigar box full of IOUs under the counter and it's said that at the end of every year, grateful Opry performers would band together to pay off those IOUs so she could afford to stay in business. Charley Pride gave her the jeweled hatpin that she used to stick unruly patrons.

A singer/comedienne herself, Tootsie performed with "Big Jeff & The Radio Playboys" led by her husband Jeff Bess. She recorded "My Little Red Wagon" and "Tootsie's Wall of Fame. "She ran a beer joint," said Tom T. Hall, "but to young songwriters and musicians, she was a small finance company, a booking agent and a counselor. "Maybe Ernest Tubb put it even better: "Tootsie was the softest touch in town."

Tootsie Bess died of cancer Feb. 18, 1978. Her funeral was attended by loyal customers from mechanics to country music legends.


Inducted to the Music City Walk of Fame on November 8, 2009.