Brandy Clark remembers K.T. Oslin as one of the first artists she listened to (and watched, in the dawning age of music videos) as a kid. Clark’s early memories of the iconic Arkansas-born songstress include watching Oslin’s videos while getting ready for school, and her respect only grew over the years.
Clark, now an acclaimed singer-songwriter herself, hails Oslin’s lyrics as “genius” and timeless.” She met Oslin twice before her death in 2020, and has had the honor of performing one of Oslin’s most classic songs, “80’s Ladies,” three times. One was at Oslin’s Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame induction in 2018, another was at Oslin’s funeral, and most recently, Clark performed the powerful coming-of-age ballad at the 16th annual ACM Honors, which aired on Monday night (September 18) and became available the next day on Hulu.
Oslin’s “80’s Ladies” was one of the most iconic songs of the award-winning artist’s career, which she released in her mid-40s. She was also known and beloved for hits like “Do Ya’,” “I’ll Always Come Back,” “Hold Me,” “Come Next Monday” and other fan-favorites. Country Music Historian and longtime friend of Oslin’s, Robert K. Oermann, confirmed the country star died following complications of Parkinson’s disease, per an obituary from the New York Times in December 2020. She was 78. Clark said she spoke with Oermann, who accepted the award on Oslin’s behalf, backstage at the ACM Honors as she covered Oslin’s “80’s Ladies.”
“I was really nervous because I just wanted it to be great for her and for them [her family],” Clark said. “She’s not here anymore to represent herself, so I felt like I was representing her for her family and for the viewers. I really wanted it to be great. I was really nervous, and it’s good to be nervous. It means it matters. It definitely mattered to me. I was honored to be asked to do it, and proud that I got to do it.”
Oslin was one of many honorees of the evening, receiving the Poet’s Award (along with fellow singer-songwriters Clint Black and Mary Chapin Carpenter), “for outstanding and longstanding musical and/or lyrical contributions throughout their career, with special consideration given to a song or songs’ impact on the culture of Country Music,” per the Academy of Country Music. Other honorees of the evening include Kane Brown, Clint Black, BRELAND, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Charlie Cook, Charlie Daniels, Mike Dungan, Ashley Gorley, HARDY, Bill Mayne, Tim McGraw, Chris Stapleton, and Troy Vollhoffer.
“It felt really right to get to do it for this because it was celebrating her, and hopefully, introducing her music to a new generation of fans,” Clark said of her performance in a recent interview with iHeartCountry. She added later that Oslin is “one of the greatest songwriters, I think, ever. …She had a unique way of writing,” Clark said, noting her late 1980s song “Hold Me,” and its “genius” lyrics. “She was an original for sure.”
“It’s honest,” Clark continued of Oslin’s songwriting, including “80’s Ladies,” the stunning ballad Clark covered on the historic Ryman Auditorium stage during the ACM Honors. “She’s speaking of her generation. You could change some of that lyric and make it ‘2020s Ladies,’ and it would resonate. …She wrote songs about real love and real people and heartbreak and all the great things that tie us together. And she also had a great voice, and a very unique voice. Her actual singing voice and her speaking voice, that was off the charts. I think that was a huge part of it.”
Clark told iHearCountry that she was proud to perform “80’s Ladies” to honor Oslin and to “move that music forward…to new generations and ears who haven’t heard it yet because her music, if it touches your ears, it’ll touch your heart. To be a part of that was really big.” Other artists to take the stage during the star-studded evening, hailed the “Country Music industry’s favorite night,” include Breland, Chris Janson, Carly Pearce, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, Bailey Zimmerman, Jordan Davis, Emily Shackelton, Lady A, The War and Treaty, Brett Young, Nelly, Anne Wilson, Priscilla Block, Billy Ray Cyrus and Firerose with Travis Denning, Lee Brice and Sara Evans.
Clark has had a significant year with her own work, including releasing her self-titled album — an 11-track project that she teamed up with fellow singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile to produce — opening Shucked, a musical co-written with Shane McAnally, on Broadway after 10 years in the making, and more. Next month, Clark is slated to return to the Ryman Auditorium in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee, where she’ll perform her first-ever headlining show at the legendary venue, on the heels of a busy fall tour schedule (including date with Lori McKenna).
“It’s been a big year. I mean, I feel like a lot of dreams, for me, are being realized this year. All of them, I’ve been dreaming for a long time, but some of them have been working on longer than others, and there’s been a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments with it.”
“I think as songwriters, we get to talk about the things that everybody feels,” Clark said. “The things that connect us as human beings, and not everybody’s lucky enough to have the gift or the passion to develop the skill of songwriting… I feel lucky that I get to do that. That I loved songs from a young age, and that I wanted to learn how to write songs, and that I write songs that resonate with people, that make people feel less alone in whatever they’re feeling, be it sad or happy. I think it’s important. It’s a storytelling medium, and it’s how we pass down stories through generations.”