The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (NaSHOF) has announced the 12 nominees for the class of 2021. Eight of these nominees are for the Songwriters category, while the remaining four are for the Songwriter/Artist category.
Nominees in the Songwriters category are Rhett Akins, Buddy Cannon, Larry Cordle, Carl Jackson, Mary Ann Kennedy, David Malloy, Frank J. Myers, and Tia Sillers. Nominees in the Songwriter/Artists category are Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Shania Twain, and Phil Vassar.
All nominees experienced their first Top 20 song at least 20 years ago. Two songwriters and one songwriter/artist will be elected in these categories by their professional songwriter peers and members of the Hall of Fame. In addition, two more will be named to the Class of 2021. A separate body of veteran voters will elect a veteran songwriter and a veteran songwriter/artist, both of whom experienced their first Top 20 song at least 30 years ago. As part of that process, nominees in those categories are not announced.
The new group will be among those honored at the “50/51” Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala on Monday, November 1, 2021, at the Music City Center alongside the organization’s previously named Class of 2020: Steve Earle, Bobbie Gentry, Kent Blazy, Brett James and Spooner Oldham.
“We were forced to postpone our 50th Anniversary celebration last year, so this will be our ‘50/51’ party—celebrating two years and two classes in a special double-sized event,” says NaSHOF Executive Director Mark Ford. “We congratulate all of this year’s nominees and look forward to next month, when we will announce those who will be inducted as members of the Class of 2021.”
ABOUT THE NASHVILLE SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME 2021 NOMINEES:
Category 1 – SONGWRITERS
Valdosta, Georgia, native Rhett Akins began his professional music career as a performer at San Antonio’s Fiesta Texas theme park. In 1992, he made the move to Nashville. Initially a performer at Opryland theme park, he also worked as a demo singer, later signing a recording contract with Decca Record. As an artist, Akins topped the charts in the mid-1990s with “Don’t Get Me Started” and his signature song, “That Ain’t My Truck.” By the later 2000s, he was writing songs for other artists, including “Put A Girl In It” by Brooks & Dunn, “What’s Your Country Song” by Thomas Rhett, “All About Tonight” by Blake Shelton and “Boys ’Round Here” by Shelton with Pistol Annies & Friends. Akins also wrote “All Over Me” by Josh Turner (the 2011 BMI Country Song of the Year), “Honey Bee” by Shelton (the 2012 ASCAP Country Song of the Year), “Take A Back Road” by Rodney Atkins (the 2012 BMI Country Song of the Year) and “It Goes Like This” by Rhett (the 2014 ASCAP Country Song of the Year). Akins was named BMI Country Songwriter of the Year in 2011 and 2014. He was the 2017 ACM Songwriter of the Year and the 2019 ACM Songwriter of the Decade.
Buddy Cannon was born in Lexington, Tennessee. He began his diverse career as a songwriter, singer, musician, publisher, producer, and label executive in the early 1970s as bass player in Bob Luman’s band, later making the jump to play in Mel Tillis’ band and write for his publishing company. During their 11 years together, Tillis recorded several of Cannon’s songs, including the chart-topping “I Believe In You.” Throughout his career, Cannon’s keen song sense has served him well in the studio, helping select and record hit songs for artists ranging from Shania Twain to Kenny Chesney to Willie Nelson, with whom he has written regularly since 2008. His credits as a songwriter include “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore” by Billy Ray Cyrus, “Look At Us” by Craig Morgan, “I’ve Come To Expect It From You” by George Strait, the Vern Gosdin hits “I’m Still Crazy,” “Set ’Em Up Joe” and “Dream Of Me,” as well as the Sammy Kershaw hits “Anywhere But Here” and “If You’re Gonna Walk, I’m Gonna Crawl.” “Give It Away” by Strait was named the 2007 ACM Song & Single of the Year and also the 2007 CMA Song of the Year.
Larry Cordle was raised in eastern Kentucky, where he began playing guitar and writing songs at a young age. He scored his first hit in 1983 when Ricky Skaggs topped the charts with “Highway 40 Blues.” Two years later, Cordle moved to Nashville and began creating a catalog that includes “Heartbreak Hurricane” by Skaggs, “Honky Tonk Crowd” by John Anderson, “Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me” by Diamond Rio, “Against The Grain” by Garth Brooks and “Hollywood Squares” by George Strait. “Lonesome Standard Time,” by his band of the same name, was the 1993 IBMA Song of the Year, as well as a country hit for Kathy Mattea. “Murder On Music Row,” also by Lonesome Standard Time, was the 2000 IBMA Song of the Year and the 2001 SPBGMA Song of the Year. The following year, the country version by Strait & Alan Jackson was named the 2001 CMA Song of the Year. “If I’d Have Wrote That Song” by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers, was named the 2018 IBMA Song of the Year. He was named the 2001, 2019 and 2020 SPBGMA Songwriter of the Year. In 2015, Cordle was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.
Carl Jackson was born in the small town of Louisville, Mississippi. By age 8, he was well on his way to being an accomplished musician, and by age 14, he was invited to play banjo in Jim and Jesse McReynolds’s band. Five years later, Jackson joined Glen Campbell’s band. During that time, he began to concentrate on songwriting. Among his diverse catalog of songs, Jackson has bluegrass hits such as “Comet Ride” by Ricky Skaggs and “Run Mississippi” by Rhonda Vincent; Gospel hits such as “It’s Not What You Know (It’s Who You Know)” by The Whites; and country hits such as “(Love Always) Letter To Home” by Glen Campbell, “No Future In The Past” by Vince Gill, “Put Yourself In My Place” by Pam Tillis, “Breaking New Ground” by Wild Rose and his own “Dixie Train.” “Little Mountain Church House” by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver was named the 1990 IBMA Song of the Year. “Where Shadows Never Fall” by Campbell & Kelly Nelon Thompson earned the 1991 GMA Dove Award for Best Southern Gospel Song. Jackson was named the 1998 and 2000 SPBGMA Songwriter of the Year. He was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2006.
MARY ANN KENNEDY
Mary Ann Kennedy hails from Muskego, Wisconsin, where she grew up singing in school choirs and performing in her family’s band. After college graduation, she taught junior high school choral music for two years before deciding to move to Nashville in 1978. A few years later, she was signed to a record deal as part of the all-female group Calamity Jane and also saw her first hit as a songwriter – 1982’s “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands” by Lee Greenwood (later a hit for Reba McEntire in 1996). By 1983, Kennedy and frequent co-writer Pam Rose left Calamity Jane to form Kennedy Rose. The duo recorded a pair of albums for Sting’s Pangea Records label and toured with him in the early 1990s. Beyond the duo, Kennedy’s catalog includes songs such as “Dixie Road” by Greenwood, “Me Against The Night” by Crystal Gayle, “Safe In The Arms Of Love” by Martina McBride, “You Will” by Patty Loveless, “A Little Bit Closer” by Tom Wopat and “He’s Letting Go” by Baillie & The Boys. Janie Fricke hit with “Somebody Else’s Fire” and “The First Word In Memory Is Me.” “I’ll Still Be Loving You” by Restless Heart was named the 1988 ASCAP Country Song of the Year.
California native David Malloy moved with his family from Los Angeles to Nashville at age 13. The son of an award-winning recording engineer, Malloy took his first guitar lesson at 15 and immediately knew that he wanted to write and produce music for a living. After a pair of early singles by Sammi Smith and Carmol Taylor, his first major success as a songwriter came through his collaboration with Eddie Rabbitt and Even Stevens. Together, the trio wrote and produced classic chart-topping hits for Rabbitt such as “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “I Love A Rainy Night,” “Step By Step,” “Someone Could Lose A Heart Tonight,” “Gone Too Far” and “You Can’t Run From Love.” Rabbitt’s “Suspicions” (also a hit for Tim McGraw in 2008) was BMI’s 1980 Country Song of the Year. “Love Will Turn You Around” by Kenny Rogers was named ASCAP’s 1983 Country Song of the Year. Other hits from Malloy’s catalog include “Real Love” by Dolly Parton & Rogers and “One Honest Heart” by Reba McEntire.
FRANK J. MYERS
Frank J. Myers grew up in Dayton, Ohio. His father, a champion fiddle player and singer, taught Myers to play the guitar. By age 14, he had formed a band with his brother and was featured on Porter Wagoner’s TV show. In 1981, Myers moved to Nashville, where he was hired by Eddy Raven as a guitar player – later becoming Raven’s band leader and road manager. During that time, he co-wrote 10 Top 10 singles for Raven, including “Bayou Boys,” “I Got Mexico” and “Sometimes A Lady.” In 1982, Myers’ “You And I” became a hit for Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle. Other hits from his catalog include “My Front Porch Looking In” by Lonestar, “Come In Out Of The Pain” by Doug Stone and “Once Upon A Lifetime” by Alabama. The John Michael Montgomery version of “I Swear” earned a slew of awards — the 1994 Grammy for Best Country Song, 1994 ACM Song and Single of the Year, 1994 CMA Single of the Year, 1995 ASCAP Country Song of the Year, and 1994 NSAI Song of the Year — with the All 4 One version topping the pop chart for 11 consecutive weeks. “I’m Already There” by Lonestar was the 2002 ASCAP Country Song of the Year and the 2002 BMI Country Song of the Year. “Tomorrow” by Chris Young was the 2011 SESAC Country Song of the Year.
Growing up in Nashville, Tia Sillers became hooked on songwriting as a high-school student when she attended her first songwriters round. Years later her first publishing deal yielded “Lipstick Promises” by George Ducas in 1995. Also that year, Kenny Wayne Shepherd made her “Deja Voodoo” a Top 10 rock hit. Three years later, Shepherd delivered a No. 1 rock hit with “Blue On Black,” which earned the 1998 Billboard Music Award for Rock Track of the Year. The song was re-recorded in 2019 by Five Finger Death Punch with Shepherd, Brantley Gilbert & Brian May. In 2008, Sillers’ co-written “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack with The Sons of the Desert became a chart-topping multi-genre smash that earned the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Song, as well as the 2000 ACM Song and Single of the Year, the 2000 CMA Song and Single of the Year, the 2001 ASCAP Country Song of the Year, the 2001 BMI Country Song of the Year, and the 2000-2001 NSAI Song of the Year. Other notable songs from her catalog include “Land Of The Living” by Pam Tillis, “There’s Your Trouble” by the The Chicks, “I Cry” by Tammy Cochran, “That’d Be Alright” by Alan Jackson, “A Joyful Noise” by Jo Dee Messina and “Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love” by Trisha Yearwood.
Category 2 – SONGWRITER/ARTISTS
Oklahoma native Toby Keith received his first guitar at age eight. After high-school graduation, he worked in the oil fields by day and played with his band at night. In the early ’90s, one of his demo tapes found its way to producer Harold Shedd, who signed him to a deal with Mercury Records. In 1993 Keith’s solo-written debut single, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” reached No. 1 on the country chart and would go on to become the most played country song of the 1990s. As an artist, he has placed 45 self-penned Top 20 songs on the Billboard charts, including 16 No. 1 songs and 17 more in the Top 10. Among those compositions are “You Ain’t Much Fun,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!,” “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” “Beer For My Horses,” “I Love This Bar,” “American Soldier,” “A Little Too Late,” and “God Love Her.” “As Good As I Once Was” was BMI’s 2006 Country Song of the Year. Among his many awards, he was named BMI’s 2001 Songwriter of the Year, 2004 Writer/Artist of the Year and 2006 Songwriter of the Year. He was NSAI’s 2003, 2004, 2006 Songwriter/Artist of the Year, as well as that organization’s Songwriter/Artist of the Decade (2000-2009). In 2015, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York.
Brad Paisley was born and raised in Glen Dale, West Virginia. He received his first guitar from his grandfather, who taught him to play at eight years old. At age 13, Paisley wrote his first song, which he performed publicly and eventually led him to an eight-year stint performing on Wheeling’s Jamboree USA. After high-school graduation and two years at West Liberty State College, he was awarded a fully paid ASCAP scholarship to Belmont University in Nashville where he majored in music business. A week after graduating from Belmont, Paisley signed as a writer with EMI Music Publishing. Following cuts by David Kersh, David Ball, and Tracy Byrd, he signed with Arista Nashville and soon began to record his own songs. As an artist, he has placed 33 self-penned Top 20 songs on the Billboard charts, including 15 No. 1s and 14 more in the Top 10. Among those compositions are “He Didn’t Have To Be,” “Alcohol,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song),” “Celebrity,” “Ticks,” “Letter To Me,” “Then,” “This Is Country Music,” “Water,” and his duet with Carrie Underwood “Remind Me.” Paisley was ASCAP’s 2004 Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year. He was NSAI’s Songwriter/Artist of the Year in 2002 and 2005.
Shania Twain was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. When she was two, she moved with her family to Timmins, Ontario. During high school, she began writing songs and fronting a local cover band. After graduation, she toured Ontario with another band before returning home in 1987 to care for her younger siblings after their parents died in a car accident. A few years later she was signed to Mercury Nashville. Since the release of her debut album in 1993, Twain has placed 22 self-penned Top 20 songs on the Billboard charts, including 7 No. 1 songs and 8 more in the Top 10. Among those compositions are “You’re Still The One” (1998 Grammy for Best Country Song and 1999 BMI Country Song of the Year), “Come On Over” (1999 Grammy for Best Country Song) and “Forever And For Always” (2004 BMI Country Song of the Year), along with “You’ve Got A Way,” “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here!,” “Love Gets Me Every Time,” “No One Needs To Know,” “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!,” “From This Moment On” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Twain was named NSAI’s 1998 Songwriter/Artist of the Year, as well as BMI’s 1999 Country Songwriter of the Year and 2000 Country Songwriter of the Year. She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
Phil Vassar was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. During his college years, he began playing piano and singing in local clubs. Moving to Nashville to pursue music, he found the going slow for several years until 1997 when some of his initial songs were recorded by BlackHawk, Skip Ewing, and The Sons of the Desert. Then in 1998, Vassar’s songs started gaining traction as singles for a variety of artists. During the next two years, he garnered six chart-topping hits from Collin Raye, Alan Jackson, Jo Dee Messina (including the No. 1 “Bye, Bye”) and Tim McGraw (including the No. 1 “My Next Thirty Years”). During that time, he was named NSAI’s 1998 Songwriter of the Year and ASCAP’s 1999 Country Songwriter of the Year. In late 1999, he signed a record deal with Arista Nashville. Released the following year, his debut album generated the self-penned hits “Carlene,” “Rose Bouquet,” “Six-Pack Summer,” “That’s When I Love You” and “Just Another Day In Paradise,” Vassar’s first No. 1 as an artist. Propelled by that success, he was named ASCAP’s 2001 Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year. Other hits by Vassar as an artist include “American Child,” “In A Real Love” and “Last Day Of My Life.” He was named NSAI’s 2006 Songwriter/Artist of the Year.