Six iconic tunesmiths became the newest members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Wednesday night (Oct. 11) in a grand ballroom at the Music City Center.
The evening was full of special musical tributes, moving speeches and Music Row camaraderie. It was the 53rd Anniversary Gala and the at-capacity crowd donned their best suits, gowns and cowboy hats for the occasion.
Casey Beathard and David Lee Murphy went into the Hall in the Contemporary Songwriter category, while Rafe Van Hoy joined in the Veteran Songwriter category. Keith Urban went into the Hall in the Contemporary Songwriter/Artist category and Kix Brooks entered in the Veteran Songwriter/Artist category.
The late John Jarrard was inducted into the Hall’s Legacy category, designed specifically to honor NaSHOF-worthy candidates who are deceased. Bobby Bare was also honored with the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award, a distinction for those who serve as a champion of and cheerleader for songwriters.
“We are here tonight to honor the songwriters who have reached the pinnacle of success in their respective careers,” said Rich Hallworth, NaSHOF Board Chair. “We celebrate the creativity and talent that go into writing a song of merit, cultural value and long-lasting impact, and we do that tonight by welcoming these newest members into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
Jarrard was the first songwriter to be honored. The craftsman of hits such as “There’s No Way” and “You’ve Got The Touch” by Alabama, “Money In The Bank” by John Anderson, “Blue Clear Sky” by George Strait, “My Kind Of Girl” by Collin Raye and many more, had a life marked by health issues, but a voracious spirit.
Hall of Fame member Gary Nicholson spoke about Jarrard, telling stories of his perseverance in the face of a lifetime of struggle. BlackHawk honored Jarrard with a performance of his “I Sure Can Smell the Rain.”
His widow, Janet Jarrard, accepted on her late husband’s behalf. She spoke about his inspiring story and his philanthropic efforts. She shared that Steve Earle called Jarrard “the bravest man on Music Row.”
Next up, Bare was honored with the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award for, as Hall of Fame member Gretchen Peters put it, being “one of the best friends songwriters ever had.”
Bare was the first recording artist to receive the honor. His son Bobby Bare Jr. accepted on Bare’s behalf by reading a note from the 88-year-old country legend.
“Don’t forget, the brightest, wittiest, funniest and most intelligent person in any room is always a songwriter. No exceptions. This room is full of them,” Bare wrote.
Beathard was the next songwriter to be honored. Hall of Fame member Buddy Cannon introduced him, and shared a story about the time Beathard pitched him “Boys Of Fall” for Kenny Chesney. After Cannon passed on the song, he heard from Chesney how much he liked it. “After multiple weeks at No. 1 and a successful movie inspired by Casey’s song, I admitted I was wrong. You really don’t have to be a genius to be a record producer,” Cannon quipped.
Eric Church did the musical tribute to Beathard. He shared that he had only cut three outside songs in his career before playing one of them, “Like Jesus Does” from his 2011 album Chief. Church’s old singing partner, the extremely talented Joanna Cotten, joined him for the performance.
When Beathard spoke, he talked a lot about how the perception of success changes through life and about the people in his path that helped him get to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He encouraged other songwriters in the room to stop chasing everything and feeling bitter about missed opportunities, and to take time to enjoy the ride.
“My plan was nothing like this. God’s plan was way better,” Beathard shared.
Van Hoy was the next songwriter to be honored. John Conlee sang his signature “Lady Lay Down,” one of several chart-toppers penned for him by Van Hoy. Member Bobby Braddock presented him, saying “I induct thee! I induct thee! I induct thee!” as Van Hoy joined the stage.
Van Hoy shared that he would try his best to stick to the five to six minute limit that event organizers had given him, but he blew past that in his many recognitions to the influential people in his life and career.
“There are so many people I want to thank. I am a product of everyone else’s help,” Van Hoy shared. “I couldn’t have had any of the success I’ve had without a lot of other people.”
Next up was Brooks. He was presented by Hall of Fame member Bob DiPiero, who spoke about Brooks’ multi-dimensional talents that included being a world-class songwriter.
Brooks was honored with a performance of his “Only In America” by Cody Johnson, who sounded awesome on the classic Brooks & Dunn tune.
When Brooks spoke, he talked about how badly he wanted to be in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He shared that while he was grateful to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame with Dunn, that he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to wrap his head around that honor, but now that he’s in the Nashville Songwriters Hall, he feels he is with his people.
“I was in the rotunda a few days ago with some family members. Seeing Hank Williams on the wall, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash… They’re not my peers. It’s so overwhelming for me to think I have a bronze plaque next to them. It’s going to take me a lifetime if I’m ever able to accept that,” Brooks said. “But I’ve got a room full of friends in this room tonight that I’ve written a lot of songs with. This is a club that I really wanted to be a part of so bad.”
Murphy was the next songwriter to be inducted. Craig Wiseman spoke about his charm, sharing we should all send Murphy off into the world to represent Music Row. Chesney then emerged to honor Murphy with his No. 1 hit, “Living In Fast Forward.”
Murphy shared similar sentiments as Brooks, sharing that the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction was a dream of his.
“All of my heroes have always been songwriters,” Murphy said. “I’m thankful I get to stand here tonight and have my name associated with all of those great songwriters.”
The last songwriter to be added to the Hall was Urban. He was inducted by superstar Dolly Parton, another Hall of Fame member. She shared how proud of Urban she was and that she had always admired him. Church then re-emerged on stage to honor Urban with a Chief-style version of “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me.”
When Urban took the podium, he put a “In Dolly We Trust” sticker on the front of it. He thanked all the folks on his team, many of which had spent decades with the star. Urban closed his speech with some lines from a song he wrote that he dedicated to his team.
“I know where you are now, I know what it’s like. You think they don’t understand you’re scared inside. But I’m here to let you know, that you’re alive. If you’ve been waiting on a sign, here it is tonight,” Urban recited. “I come from nothing but love and hard work. Born in the city but raised in the dirt. I wasn’t raised to be put in my place. I’m a lover, a fighter, whatever it takes.”
Earlier in the evening, Americana artist Will Kimbrough honored recently deceased Hall of Fame member Jimmy Buffett with a song the two co-wrote called “Bubbles Up.” The evening also featured a performance from Hall of Fame member Larry Gatlin, the Gatlin Brothers and nine other Hall of Fame members performing Gatlin’s song “Amazin’ (What Just The Right 3 Minutes Can Do).”
Additionally NaSHOF Board member Ken Paulson took a few moments to update the audience on the The Songwriters, a program he hosts that premiered in 2016 on WNPT and spotlights Hall of Fame members on public television stations across the country.
The gala, which kicked off with a welcoming performance from The Wildcards, featured its long-time announcer Bill Cody, the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Famer and host of 650 AM WSM’s Coffee, Country & Cody.
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