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Remembering How Mel Tillis Overcame Stuttering To Be A Country Music Star

One of Nashville's most prolific hit-makers died Sunday. Mel Tillis spent the last year dealing with intestinal issues, according to his publicist. He died at a hospital in Ocala, Florida, at age 85.

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Decision day comes Friday for 13,300 students in Nashville. That’s how many have applied to attend a school other than the one that’s closer to home – a record figure, by far.

The number is slightly padded from previous years because all eighth graders now have to choose which high school they’ll attend. But still, applications have been growing for the last few years as the district promotes choice and as more and more charter schools open in the city.

Bobby Allyn / WPLN

Updated Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

In President Obama’s third visit to Tennessee in the past year, he will be announcing a proposal that would make community college free for all Americans, called America’s College Promise. Details are still emerging, but it could look similar to Tennessee Promise.

Obama released a Facebook video Thursday evening saying he will commend Tennessee on its education reform and then propose a way to make college accessible for everyone:

National Archives and Records Administration

On January 8, 1815, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson lead a ragtag group of American soldiers to an unlikely victory in the Battle of New Orleans. Nobody could have known it at the time, but that win propelled Jackson to become the first self-made man in the White House and helped him change the nature of presidential campaigns.

  Jackson was a country boy who grew up poor and fatherless. His mother died during the Revolutionary War, around the same time he was a teenaged prisoner of war. By the time the War of 1812 broke out, he’d managed to become a wealthy frontier lawyer in a brand-new Nashville. He’d even served a brief term as Tennessee’s first Congressman. But even as an officer, Andrew Jackson was still just a militia volunteer, not a member of the regular army.

Stephen Jerkins

The Tennessee county with the lowest unemployment rate in the state has seen its fortunes change. One of Lincoln County’s largest employers is leaving. Goodman manufacturing is consolidating its operations to Texas.

By 2017, Goodman will be gone, and some 1,700 people will be jobless in Lincoln County, on the Alabama border. The decision also will result in closing a smaller Goodman plant in Dayton, Tenn.

WPLN featured the Lincoln County plant in a story last year about the area’s surprisingly low unemployment rate, which has dipped below 5 percent in the past year. Goodman, which makes air conditioning units, is the major employer in town and has been for decades. Multiple generations work there.

Emil Moffat / WPLN

Sue Jordan and her father spent many years listening to Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio at the Grand Ole Opry. But their connection to the Opry legend was also personal.

Jordan, a school teacher, had Dickens’ granddaughter April as a student one year and it allowed her to arrange a meeting between her father and Dickens — two West Virginia natives with a passion for music.

“You would have thought he and my Dad had known each other for years,” said Jordan.

“My dad loved to play the harmonica and always listened to the Grand Ole Opry and Little Jimmy Dickens,” she said. “And that was the pleasure of my Dad to be able to meet him and speak with him and sing and play the harmonica with him.”

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Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands why some state lawmakers are demanding more details about his plan to expand health coverage for the poor.

Nearly a month has passed since he said the proposal would be coming, but it still hasn’t been released, a situation that has many conservatives concerned. But Haslam told reporters Wednesday that the proposal, which he’s calling Insure Tennessee, will be out this week — well before the state House and Senate have to start debating it.

“This is a big deal, and we want the legislators to know exactly what it is that we’re proposing, so this will give everybody two or three weeks to review it,” he said. “Obviously we’re hurrying as much as we can to get the waiver finished.”

Haslam says Washington officials generally like his idea to expand Medicaid through health savings accounts or vouchers for employer-provided insurance. But the federal government and the legislature both must sign off before it can be enacted.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker officially becomes chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. He says one of his first acts will be to hold hearings on the Obama administration’s decision to soften the country’s stance toward Cuba.

The Tennessee Republican said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning that the Cuban government hasn’t yet lived up to its end of the bargain — which includes releasing 53 political prisoners. But he added, he’s keeping an open mind.

Upupa4me via Flickr

Lawmakers in Nashville and Washington, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, have been talking about raising the gas taxes on both the state and federal levels.

A double whammy might not sit well with drivers, but Commissioner John Schroer, the state’s top transportation official, says the need for more money cannot be ignored.

He says the approximately $650 million that Tennessee brings in annually soon will be enough only to keep the state’s roads patched up — without any new construction projects. With that in mind, Tennessee leaders shouldn’t let talk in Congress of raising the federal gas tax keep them from considering a state hike as well.

Bill McChesney via Flickr

The Tennessee Highway Patrol has some unanswered questions about a proposed law requiring seat belts on school buses. After two buses collided in Knoxville last month, killing two students and a teacher’s aide, legislators immediately began calling for lap restraints.

There’s a whole debate over whether children are safer strapped to their seats in a bus. Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says he’s not convinced seat belts would have saved lives or prevented injuries in the Knoxville tragedy.

Jumpstart Foundry

For the past five years, Tennessee entrepreneurs who wanted to launch a new business idea might have tried to catch the eye of Jumpstart Foundry.

Jumpstart is what’s called an accelerator in the tech world. It’s a company that helps other companies grow — playing the roles of mentor, shareholder and money matchmaker. Since its inception, it’s put about 40 fledgling tech companies through a sort of how-to-run-a-business boot camp, setting them up with seasoned advisors and showing them off to potential investors. And it’s been successful. Last year, an MIT business professor ranked Jumpstart the 14th best accelerator in the country.

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Former Tennessee Tech professor Wonkak Kim is back in Middle Tennessee for a visit, so of course we made sure to have him swing through our studios for a performance. Kim, a clarinetist, brought with him the Parker String Quartet. The ensemble is currently on tour and is serving a residency at Harvard.

Nina Cardona / Nashville Public Radio

Mozart wrote his opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in the late 18th century, long before reality television. However, a new production featuring Blair School of Music students highlights the similarities between the over-the-top antics and scheming of the classical-era plot and modern-day shows like Big Brother and The Bachelor. Ahead of their very contemporary production, singers from the Vanderbilt Opera Theater came to sing highlights from the show.

Nina Cardona / Nashville Public Radio

Baritone Jeffrey Williams is a cheerful, friendly guy, but he loves singing roles that explore the darker side of life. The Austin Peay State University professor obtained a Center for Excellence grant for composer Leanna Kirchoff to write a mono-opera based on Guy de Maupassant's "Diary of a Madman," which premiered on a Halloween night recital of spooky and creepy classical music at Austin Peay. Williams is joined by Ben Harris on piano and Kevin Jablonsk playing double-bass, with the composer on hand to tell us about her approach to the piece.

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