A wide range of performers — from Clint Eastwood to Jimmy Buffett to Emmylou Harris — are part of a new tribute to the favorite son of Hannibal.
The CD, "Mark Twain: Words & Music," will be released Wednesday. It tells the story of Twain in spoken word and song, and features narration by Garrison Keillor. Eastwood is the voice of Twain. Buffett is the voice of Huckleberry Finn.
Hannibal's Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is hosting a launch party Tuesday night featuring a performance by Carl Jackson, a Grammy winner who produced the CD and sings on it.
Many of the songs were penned just for the album. Singers include Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Brad Paisley, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent and, like Twain, another Missouri native, Sheryl Crow.
Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Mo., in 1835. His family moved to Hannibal, where he grew up. The Mississippi River town and its characters inspired many of his greatest works, including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Life on the Mississippi."
Mark Twain Museum director Cindy Lovell came up with the idea for a CD and reached out to Jackson, a childhood friend with strong connections in the music industry.
Work on the project began in earnest in 2010, the year commemorating the 175th anniversary of Twain's birth and the 100th anniversary of his death.
All of the artists donated their time and talents. Lovell said it was an easy sell because so many are fans of Twain.
"The whole world loves this man," she said. "All you have to do is say, 'Mark Twain,' and people listen. They say, 'Yeah, I'd like to be involved.'"
Buffett is a Twain lover — he has paid homage in several books and songs. He eagerly signed onto the project, and his Mailboat Records made and is distributing the CD. Lovell said worldwide release is planned.
"Time has not eroded the spirit, force, character and humor of Huck and Mr. Twain's words," Buffett said in a statement.
Lovell said many of the artists recorded in Nashville, though some worked from home studios.
A century after Twain's death, his words still move people. That was evident in Eastwood's reading from Twain's autobiography on the CD.
"When you hear Eastwood reading the passage where Livy (Twain's wife) dies, you can hear him break down," Lovell said. "You can tell how he really felt it."
Proceeds from the CD will help maintain nine museum properties in Hannibal, including the museum and the home where Twain grew up. Lovell said the influx of money is needed.
"The museum has severely felt the effects of the economy, and this project will raise much-needed revenue," Lovell said. "We really want to think in big terms of what Mark Twain would want us to do to help Hannibal."
Hannibal continues to benefit from Twain's legacy — the museum and his other haunts help draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the northeast Missouri town every year.
The double CD includes a 40-page booklet of liner notes. It costs $18.95 and will be available in many stores and through the museum's website.