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“Rocky Top” and Tennessee English

Good writing comes in many varieties. For the University of Tennessee, it famously took the form of memorable lyrics by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the song-writing duo who penned “Rocky Top,” among their many hits over the years. You can find the words of the beloved song, recorded by many artists since its birth in 1968, all over campus and Knoxville: “Rocky Top, you’ll always be home sweet home to me.”

The cover of the Bryants’ 1979 album A Touch of Bryant

In the 1980s, with “Rocky Top” a mainstay at Volunteer games and eventually an official State of Tennessee song, the Bryants were recognized by UT for their contribution to campus culture. But their generosity did not stop there. After Boudleaux Bryant passed away in 1987, Felice continued to feel attached to the University where their hit song played year-round.

In 1996, Felice Bryant established a scholarship fund in the Tennessee English Department: the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant Scholarship. Fundraising for the scholarship continued through 1997, when proceeds from that year’s annual Rocky Top Birthday Bash celebration in Gatlinburg were directed to the endowment (Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 27, 1997).

Since then, the scholarship has been awarded annually, in keeping with the donor agreement, to a Tennessee English major concentrating in Literature from either Sevier County, where Felice and Boudleaux Bryant lived in their final years, or Knox County.

Felice Bryant knew that good writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As she told the Knoxville News-Sentinel in 1999, “Everyone is so afraid to tell me what they think about what I’m writing these days… No discouraging words… I hate it when I get that from people I expect a critique from. I know some of my stuff is not good. I know if it is rotten, but I need someone else to tell me why” (May 7, 1999).

Today, thanks in part to donations like that of Felice Bryant, English majors on Rocky Top continue to receive the critique they need to improve as writers and perhaps someday to become accomplished wordsmiths like the Bryants.