BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
This year’s Medallion Ceremony for the Country Music Hall of Fame contained a banquet of emotions – joy, humility, grief, gratitude, humor, nostalgia, ecstasy, pride and more – all served with superb music.
Staged on Sunday evening (Oct. 21) in the CMA Theater at the Hall of Fame, the event saluted the 134th, 135th and 136th inductees, Johnny Gimble, Ricky Skaggs and Dottie West.
“Induction into the Hall of Fame is country music’s greatest achievement,” said Board Chairman Steve Turner. “It stands for all time.”
He was dressed in the ceremonial raiment of the Circle Guard. Three other robed members of this elite group stood formally in front of the audience as Turner explained that they established a new tradition this year. He, David Conrad, Seab Tuck and Bill Denny recite the names of all of the Hall of Fame members so that they echo in the Rotunda before each Medallion Ceremony.
“Please stand to welcome country music’s royalty,” added Turner. Applause erupted as Hall of Fame members Vince Gill, Bud Wendell, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Emery, Brenda Lee, Bill Anderson, Harold Bradley, Charlie Daniels, Don Schlitz, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Connie Smith and members of Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, Statler Brothers and Jordanaires marched into the venue.
CMA exec Sarah Trahern emphasized that her welcoming remarks were special this year, “as we celebrate our sixth decade as your trade association.” The CMA sponsors the ceremony and its cocktail supper.
Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young presided. He began his remarks by asking for a moment of silence for this year’s departed Hall of Famer, Mel Tillis.
“This is a communion, and this is a celebration,” Young said of the event. “We cheer the power of music.”
Fiddle ace Johnny Gimble (1926-2015) was saluted on video and via an appreciation by Young. Gimble is renowned as a master of western swing, a recording-session staple, a National Heritage fellow and the five-time winner of the CMA Instrumentalist of the Year award.
The triple fiddles of Kenny Sears, Larry Franklin and Joe Spivey echoed the late Gimble’s style on “Right Or Wrong,” featuring vocalist David Ball. Eleven-time IBMA Fiddler of the Year Michael Cleveland essayed Gimble’s oft-played composition “Gardenia Waltz” with accompaniment by guitarist Jeff White.
Backed by Deanie Richardson on fiddle, Connie Smith performed a smokin’ rendition of “If It Ain’t Love.” When the record was released in 1972, she wrote to radio stations urging them to mention Gimble’s name as her “duet partner” on the record.
Connie also conducted the fiddler’s formal induction.
“It’s such a shock and a surprise that they remembered Johnny, and so nice,” said his widow Barbara Gimble.
Dottie West (1932-1991) won country’s first female Grammy Award, wrote hits and national Coke jingles, endured on the charts for 25 years and discovered/encouraged future stars Jeannie Seely, Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner. Regarded as a singer’s singer, she also charted as the duet partner of Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, Jimmy Dean and Kenny Rogers.
Following her video tribute and Young’s bio narration, Jeannie Seely sang a soulful “Here Comes My Baby” to salute her dear friend. Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner teamed up to perform “Country Sunshine.” Americana-music stars The War and Treaty (Michael Trotter Jr. & Tanya Blount Trotter) had the audience on its feet and cheering wildly during their blazing, rafter-raising treatment of “A Lesson in Leavin.’”
Brenda Lee inducted Dottie. She seized the opportunity to make her statement about females being shut out in country music. Brenda called her fellow female artists to the stage to stand in solidarity of a woman being inducted into the Hall. Trisha Yearwood, Emmylou Harris, Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith and 89-years-young Jan Howard joined her at the podium.
“This is where she belongs,” said Brenda of Dottie. “And we’ve waited a long time for this to happen.”
“So much love went into what they have done this evening,” said chatty daughter Shelly West. “We love our country-music family. You already know that you have Mom’s love.”
Son Dale West recalled singing “Mommy Can I Still Call Him Daddy” with his mother in the studio and on the Opry stage in 1966 when he was 4. Son Kerry West offered a shout-out to “all the musicians who supported her through all the decades.
“Thank you for honoring our Mom’s legacy,” Kerry concluded. (Dottie’s rock musician/studio engineer son Morris died in 2010).
Both the video bio and Kyle Young’s remarks noted that Ricky Skaggs played with such first-generation bluegrass stars as Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. Monroe even gave toddler Ricky his cherished mandolin to play on stage.
Ricky went on to become a mainstay in Emmylou’s band, a leader of country’s “new traditionalist” movement, a 14-time Grammy awardee, a hit record producer and a 2018 inductee into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
Larry Cordle, Garth Brooks and three-time IBMA mandolinist Sierra Hull did a spirited version of Cordle’s “Highway 40 Blues.” Dierks Bentley sang “You’ve Got a Lover.” Then Chris Stapleton stunned the crowd with a stark “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn,” as a solo with his own acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Garth inducted Ricky, calling him, “a breath of fresh air for every kid like me….You spoke straight to me.”
“It feels like church here,” said Ricky.
He lauded his bluegrass progenitors. He also praised his wife, Sharon White Skaggs, and her bluegrass-country family band The Whites. He called out his children in the audience — Andrew, Molly and Luke –- thanked other family members and asked for the members of his band Kentucky Thunder to stand and be recognized.
When he thanked Emmylou, she began to weep in her seat. The audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation.
“I’m so grateful,” said Ricky. “It’s beyond humbling to me. Thank you for this tremendous honor. I’ve always tried to honor others. But tonight, you have truly honored me.”
Perhaps the eve’s emotional high point came when Garth removed the Hall of Fame Medallion he’d hung around Ricky’s neck so that it wouldn’t scratch one of the museum’s most treasured artifacts.
Ricky then (again) played Monroe’s hallowed mandolin and led the crowd in singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It is the traditional closing song of the Medallion Ceremony and country music’s unofficial “national anthem.”
The ceremony was characterized by standing ovations for every performance and for seemingly every mention of each honoree’s name. Many attendees pronounced it as the best Medallion ceremony ever. A who’s-who of Music Row attended.
That would include Jim Beavers, Jimmy Capps, Jim Horn, Dave Pomeroy, David & Susana Ross, Bonnie Garner, Bonnie Sugarman (who is leaving APA after three decades as an agent), Don Grubbs, Donna Stoneman, Dan Rogers, Dan Hill, Benita Hill, Jerry Douglas, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Martha Moore, Mike Milom (who got a shout-out from Ricky), Steve Buchanan, Steve Lassiter, Brian Mansfield, Brian Ahern (who also received a shout-out from Ricky), Luke Laird, Stacy Schlitz, Denise Stiff Shehan, Tony Brown, Tim Wipperman, Tom Roland, Ron Cox, Robert Deaton, Rod Essig, Del Bryant and Mary Del Scobey.
We repaired to the sixth-floor event space for the post-ceremony cocktail supper. Guests consumed pimento-and-bacon crostini, grilled cauliflower, roast beef, shrimp, sweet-potato salad, squash ravioli, corn cakes, smoked-catfish pate on toast, marinated mushrooms, saffron risotto, tangy cabbage slaw, assorted cheeses and more.
Working the rooms were Gene Ward, Sam Bush, Suzanne Lee, Bruce Hinton, Charlie Monk, Elaine Wood, Stu Phillips, Vickie Carrico, Juli Thanki, Hunter Kelly, Lon Helton, Phil Ryan, Erika Wollam & Roger Nichols (who are off to London to promote our music), Holly Gleason, Buddy Cannon, Andy Leftwich, Kent Oliver, Dub Cornett, Pat Collins, Gretchen Peters, Robyn Young, Jay McDowell, Mark D. Sanders, Melanie Howard, Diane Pearson, Lori Badgett and a cast of thousands.