Charity off the charts
From her earliest success, Grant lent her talents to fund-raising. "I grew up feeling very interconnected to the community around me, even when I was oblivious to current events," she says. "My older kids' grandmother used to always pray, 'Lord, lead me today to those who need me.' Most mornings I pray that prayer."
"Her charity is off the charts," says Blanton. "I've never seen anybody so generous with her life and her funds." Gill, who performs at two or three charity events for each paying gig, is equally benevolent. He almost never turns down a request to play fund-raisers, he says, because he remembers when no one asked.
Individually and together, the two have raised millions of dollars for causes including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, Nashville's symphony, and, through Gill's annual pro-celebrity golf tournament ("The Vinny"), junior golf programs throughout Tennessee. In 2004 the pair began hosting an annual golf tournament and concert to raise funds for Challenge Aspen, which offers recreational programs for people with physical and cognitive challenges. Challenge Aspen started tailoring services for returning servicemen and -women, and in 2009 Gill and Grant hosted a Kennedy Center concert to help launch Challenge America. The nonprofit assists veterans — many wounded — in making the transition from battlefield to home.
Gill admits to selling fewer albums than during his hit-making prime in the 1990s. But without the pressure to score radio airplay, he is free to indulge in more offbeat endeavors. Most Monday nights when he's in town, he drives to a tiny music club and sits in with The Time Jumpers, a western-swing ensemble largely made up of topflight studio musicians. He says he has grown as a craftsman during recent years. "The past pales in comparison to what I am doing now," he says. "I feel reborn, in a sense."
Like her husband, Grant is less interested in ramping up her career than in spending time with friends and watching the children as they launch their lives. Only Sarah and Corrina live at home now, and Grant knows that soon the spacious house will no longer be their anchor. That's one reason she's glad Gill turned his study into a recording studio several years ago. "It's given this big old house great purpose for the years to come," she says, showing off the studio's massive soundboard. "We'll still be putting on coffee and setting up drums and having the house rattle on its foundation."
Back in the den, she settles into a high-back chair and insists that this is her favorite stretch of life. Gill agrees, but with a wisecrack: "I'm old enough now that I look extinguished."
Life isn't perfect, of course. Grant admits to a recent oh-no-I'm-getting-old! meltdown in the bathtub. "Having that baby at 40 really shot my stomach, and I was just having a good cry about it," she says. "Vince came in, and I was drooling and snot was coming out, and I said, 'Women get invisible.' And he said, 'I love you, and you're more beautiful now than you were when I first met you. I can't wait to see what you look like with a head full of gray hair.' And he meant it."
"As far as she knows!" he pipes up. They share a laugh. Then Gill springs to his feet to head for an appointment. A quick kiss and he's out the door with a promise to return soon.
The early-afternoon sun filters through the window and lights the side of Grant's face — chiseled, yet soft. It's unlikely, but what if Gill didn't come back? How would she cope if, for some reason, he fell off the planet?
"Oh, my goodness," Grant responds, as if the idea never occurred to her. Her brown eyes widen and fill. "I would miss him every day."