The Beloved Queen of Country Comedy
This semester, first-year students in Belmont’s Fashion Design & Merchandising program of the O’More College of Architecture and Design were assigned an Introduction to Fashion project paying tribute to Ward-Belmont graduate Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, who would later be known globally as Minnie Pearl.
Students designed and created hats inspired by “Hee Haw’s Queen of Country Comedy,” who was known for donning extravagant headwear during her comedic performances. Each student presented their creation and explained how their piece was emblematic of Minnie Pearl, sharing takeaways from the class that contributed to their design.
Freshman Shelby Riley presented “The Fragility Hat” which was inspired by a quote from Minnie Pearl.
“The price tag on my hat seems to be symbolic of all human frailty” Pearl once commented. “There’s old Minnie Pearl standing on stage in her best dress, telling everyone how proud she is to be there, and she’s forgotten to take the $1.98 price tag off her hat.”
Riley embroidered the words “don’t forget who you are” on her hat and used the scavenged materials of jewelry wire and embroidery floss to create a hat representative of Pearl’s quote. “I wanted to make something that makes the wearer frail or fragile,” Riley said “It’s a hat that doesn’t serve a purpose. The ball cap is useless because of the material, and the hat itself is also very fragile.”
Students took inspiration from Pearl’s wide-brimmed hats and floral accents as well as aspects of her life like her song “Love Bug Itch” and the lily pads found on the river that flow through Centerville, TN where Pearl grew up.
The projects will be on display at the documentary screening of Facing the Laughter: Minnie Pearl on Jan. 19 in the Fisher Center for Performing Art. Each hat will showcase the student designers, the name of the creation and the Minnie Pearl inspiration and class takeaway.
About Minnie Pearl
Known as “Ophie” by her classmates, she attended Ward-Belmont—the all-girls junior college that previously stood on the grounds of Belmont University from 1913-1951. Hailing from Hickman County, just west of Nashville, Minnie Pearl attended Ward-Belmont to study theater and graduated in 1932. While on campus, she wrote for the student newspaper, The Hyphen, and was involved with the YWCA. She was voted “most humorous” two years running by her classmates.
After graduation, Pearl began touring with an Atlanta-based theater company where she began developing the infamous Minnie Pearl character. In 1940, she performed at the Grand Ole Opry, leading to a 50-year tenure with the show and eventually a starting role as “Hee Haw’s Queen of County Comedy.”