To say Nashville’s Swan Ball, the premier society event was dazzling this year, would be inadequate. One of few white tie events left in the country, it is also considered one of the America’s oldest fundraisers. The Swan Ball benefits Cheekwood Estate and Gardens, and was founded in 1963 by Jane Dudley, wife of Gilford Dudley, former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. Jane’s legacy of glamour, high society, and international style, live on through the Ball and we all feel her spirit as we joyously celebrate.
I am grateful to have known her. I learned a great deal from her — about life, fund raising, and fun. Her stories of international travel and hosting lavish parties kept my interest for hours at a time. It was she who first invited me to attend the Ball back in the 1980s. We had a mutual friend, former Ambassador to Denmark, John Loeb.
I had been in New York City a couple of weeks before the Ball, and had had brunch with John. He told me to call Jane when I returned and tell her that we had brunched together. When she heard, she invited us both to attend the ball — together — the following weekend, and sit at her table. In a flurry, I rushed out to find the perfect gown at the last minute.
The night of the Ball, Jane and Gilford invited John and me to their home an hour earlier so that we could go to the Ball together. While waiting for Jane to descend the grand staircase in their magnificent house, Gilford offered us a glass of Korbel.
As he was pouring the wine, John remarked that his family owned the land “where the Korbel grapes are grown.”
Gilford responded with a wry smile. I never knew if Gilford chose Korbel because he knew the Loeb family owned the land, or if it were happenstance. Either way, for years after, Jane offered Korbel as the Swan Ball sparkling wine. She knew a great tasting wine at a great price helped her bottom line in raising funds for her beloved Cheekwood.
It was quite heady for me as we entered the gates that evening. This my very first Swan Ball and I was arriving in a limousine with two former ambassadors and the founder of the grand dame of events. I felt like a fairy princess. How could it get any better?
Even the next morning when a photo of John and me sitting at the table with Jane and Gilford was featured very prominently in the newspaper, where I was identified as ‘and guest’, didn’t dampen the wonderful memories of the night before. Although it did get better. My first Swan Ball with my husband trumped even that first magical evening. And our most recent Ball was no exception.
The Ball has changed somewhat with time. And yet it has stayed very much the same. The invitation is still coveted, and the number who are invited is limited. Guests in the know still return their response cards with the names of their table guests included the day they receive it.
This year was a beautiful combination of tradition and the new. Chaired by Elizabeth McDonald and Mary Catherine McClellan, they wanted to collaborate with someone who would make the 60th anniversary memorable in every way.
They called upon renowned designer and event planner, Ken Fulk of San Francisco.
Fulk’s reputation as a creator of “experiences” and “over the top” was on full display from the moment guests entered the large gates of Cheekwood, draped in floral garlands; and then moving on down the driveway with an aerial artist swinging from an oversized orb on the front lawn.
Inside, guests were greeted by Bailey Mae Anderson dressed in a two story floral tiered gown with fresh flowers tucked at each tier of her gown. The extravagant display was the creation of Johnathan Kayne and Bailey Mae who was perhaps the most photographed person of the night.
After cocktails on the loggia, we moved on to the magnificently dressed tent on the Swan Lawn where the floral painted custom walkway led us through unexpected dashes of brilliantly colored flowers like I have never seen before, as floral-costumed characters greeted us to escort to our tables.
Internationally known jeweler Mish Tworkowski, formerly of New York City and now of Palm Beach, was presented the Swan Award, presented to individuals distinguished in their service to humanity. Prior recipients have included Carolina Herrera, Albert Hadley, Walter Annenberg, Julia Reed, and Dale Chihuly.
The beautiful designs of jeweler Donna Vock were on display during the evening and Vock was also a special guest at a private reception highlighting her jewelry at one of several events the week leading up to the Ball.
Entertainer and song writer, Darius Rucker, performed to a very appreciative crowd. Co-founder of Hootie and the Blowfish, and now one of the nation’s top country music entertainers, Rucker has charted multiple times on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as Billboard Hot Country Songs. He is a beloved member of the Nashville community. He was followed by the Simply Irresistible Band who played until 2 o’clock in the morning.
Growing up in the music business, I have observed over the years how the relationship between Nashville society and the music business crowd to help raise funds by working together to provide great musical headliners from Nashville and beyond. Some past entertainers have been Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Donna Summers, and Steve Martin.
Floral could be seen at every turn. Massive arrangements were exploding with color. Even the Wisteria branch chandeliers, by Nashville based Gary Musick Productions, offered a nod to the Wisteria Terrace at Cheekwood — a popular vista for special occasion photos.
Among those attending: Mindy and Buzz Jacoway, Linda and Rock Morphis, Elizabeth and Larry Papel, Ashley and Douglas Henry, Kathy Follin, Robert Lipman, Lin and Bill Andrews, Ellen Martin, Gerry Nadeau, Frances and Jimmy Spradley, LaRawn Scaife Rhea & Richard Rhea, Rae Yarborough, Dr. Burton Elrod, Janice and David Morgan, Andrea and Rick Carlton, Marsha and Randy Simoneaux, Cathy and Van East, Brenda and Ron Corbin, Mary and Mike Spalding, Judith and Richard Bracken, Sylvia and Doug Bradbury, Cathy and Martin Brown, Cordia and Tom Harrington, Barbara and Rick Turner, Linda and Elwyn Raymer, and Kathy and Bobby Rolfe.
Photographs by Peyton Hoge & Alan Poizner