There are bigger and glitzier events on Music City’s annual calendar, but none can match the warmth and camaraderie of The Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony.
You can’t beat the music, either. The Sunday evening (5/22) ceremony in the Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater began with a rafter-raising gospel collaboration between Vince Gill and The McCrary Sisters on “Down by the Riverside.”
“We gather here for powerful words and familiar music,” said Hall of Fame board chairman Steve Turner. “We are honored for the presence and fellowship of each and every one of you.” Steve Moore and Kyle Young also welcomed the 300 lucky seat holders.
The Hall of Fame inductions began with Kyle telling the Bobby Braddock story. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton were sensational on Bobby’s co-penned masterpiece “Golden Ring” and drew enthusiastic whoops from the crowd. They were fresh from their honeymoon. Blake, you will recall, was discovered and first produced by Bobby, and they remain close to this day.
Tracy Lawrence was in fine voice for “Time Marches On.” “Thank you, Bobby,” he said. “Biggest hit of my career.”
Billy Currington was relaxed and charming on “People Are Crazy.” Kyle reminded the attendees of Bobby’s 1981 induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and of his nine BMI Million-air songs. He proclaimed Bobby Braddock, who is a youthful 70, “one of the greatest songwriters in the history of country music.”
Bill Anderson read some of Bobby’s most distinctive song lyrics, to everyone’s delight. “It’s no secret that Bobby Braddock doesn’t like to dress up,” Bill added. “But he’s dressed up tonight. Not ‘to go away,’ but to go into the Country Music Hall of Fame.” Bill then placed the Medallion around his fellow songwriter’s neck while the crowd rose in a standing ovation.
“When I hit the red carpet, I saw all the fans….saying, ‘Who’s that?,’” said Bobby wryly. “It’s like getting to go to your own funeral without having to die. How awesome is that?” He thanked George Jones for recording 29 of his songs, producer Billy Sherrill and his co-writers. “I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’m glad to get it,” he concluded.
Jimmy Capps, Charlie McCoy and Millie Kirkham were on the original recording of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” They joined Bobby as he sat at the piano and began the iconic tune. Then George Jones appeared to do the recitation and to finish the song. The All-Star 2011 Medallion Band flawlessly recreated its ambiance. The members, led by John Hobbs, were Paul Franklin, Steve Gibson, Eddie Bayers Jr., Michael Rhodes, Deanie Richardson, Dawn Sears, Biff Watson and Jeff White.
Next, Kyle told the Jean Shepard saga. Bill Anderson reappeared to perform “A Dear John Letter” with Elizabeth Cook. Their efforts resulted in a spontaneous standing ovation. Vince stepped up to perform Jean’s “I Want to Go Where No One Knows Me.” His arms in casts for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, Doug Green of Riders in the Sky glided through “Second Fiddle,” complete with its climactic yodel.
“She sang proudly of her gender,” said Kyle of Jean, who is arguably the greatest female honky-tonk stylist in country-music history. Her husband Benny Birchfield was in the house, as were sons Cory and Harold and her granddaughters.
George Jones warmly inducted his old friend. “Thanks, George, for showing up,” Jean quipped. “I was happy to do my part. I hung in there like hair on a grilled-cheese. Bobby, how did I miss [singing] one of your songs?”
“I don’t know,” replied her fellow inductee. “It’s not too late.”
Jean continued by citing Skeeter Davis, The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmy C. Newman, The Browns and Mac Wiseman as people she feels strongly should also be honored with induction.
“I love what I do, and I do what I love,” she concluded. “Thanks to the wonderful country-music fans. God bless you.”
At 77, she proved she still has what it takes by delivering a powerfully moving version of “A Satisfied Mind.” Jean, by the way, is writing a book. “It’s going to be a tell-all,” she promises. Oh goody!
Kyle continued the proceedings by relating the Reba McEntire story. She has more No. 1 albums than any other female country artist and at age 56 is still knocking out chart-topping hits. Trisha Yearwood and Reba’s sister Susie McEntire were note-for-note perfect on “How Blue.” Vince sang “Somebody Should Leave.” Garth Brooks did “Whoever’s in New England.” But the real vocal fireworks were delivered by Martina McBride and Kelly Clarkson on “Does He Love You,” which was rewarded with another standing ovation.
Reba’s mother, sisters, son and husband/manager Narvel Blackstock were recognized. As a surprise to the inductee, Dolly Parton appeared to present her Medallion.
“This is a great honor and a great privilege,” said Dolly. “They said it was a surprise to Reba. I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s anything Reba don’t know.’” But it was, indeed, a surprise to the redheaded superstar.
“Awards are fun, but it’s the camaraderie and the fun you have getting there [that count],” said Reba. “Having such a fun time and a wonderful career and having somebody to share it with — my partner, my buddy, my husband, I love you.
“Miss Shepard, thank you for coming before me and paving the way. I’m honored beyond words to be inducted with you. Bobby Braddock, I am a huge fan.
“Thank you all very much from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t have done it without you. And, by God, I wouldn’t have wanted to.”
The traditional, mass-sung “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” finale was less of a train wreck than usual this year. Ray Walker took vocal control; The McCrarys were an immense addition and Vince conducted the band.
The event drew a sizable crowd of sidewalk fans who yelled loudly as the stars’ limos arrived at the red carpet. The always-genial Bill Cody presided out there.
Inside, a pre-inductions cocktail supper was held in the Conservatory and on the plaza. Roast turkey, hearts of palm with arugula and parmesan salad, burger sliders, assorted raw veggies with dip, rolled lox with cream cheese and capers, shrimp & grits, roasted potatoes and a tomato-onions-cucumber toss were among the flavors to sample.
Heading the guest list were 16 Hall of Fame members – George Jones (inducted in 1992), Jo Walker-Meador (1995), Brenda Lee (1997), Bud Wendell (1998), Dolly Parton (1999), Bill Anderson (2001), Gordon Stoker, Curtis Young and Ray Walker of The Jordanaires (2001), Jim Foglesong (2004), Harold Bradley (2006), Sonny James (2006), Ralph Emery (2007), Vince Gill (2007), Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers (2008), Barbara Mandrell (2009), Charlie McCoy (2009) and Billy Sherrill (2010).
In addition, the crowd was liberally sprinkled with performers such as Jan Howard, Red Steagall, Donna Stoneman, Patsy Stoneman, Rafe Van Hoy, Matraca Berg, Don Henry and Bob DiPiero. Also in the house were David Anderson, David McCormick, David & Susana Ross, John Grady, John Siegenthaler, John Guess, Don Light, Donna & Gerald Nicely, Bill Carter, Bill Denny, Tony Conway, Tony Brown, Troy Tomlinson, Tom Roland, Jerry & Ernie Williams and Jody Williams.
Working the room were Rod Essig, Roy Wunsch & Mary Ann McCready, Pat Collins, Peter Cooper, Dick Frank, Dixie Gamble, Dann Huff, Steve Buchanan, Scott & Sandi Spika Borchetta, Eddie Stubbs, Beverly Keel, Michael Kosser, Alice Randall, Lon Helton, Ed Morris and Chet Flippo. The End. Until next year.