Contemporary superstar George Strait, ’60s and ’70s hitmaker Sonny James and legendary studio musician Harold Bradley have been selected as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The formal inductions will take place during the 40th annual CMA Awards on Nov. 6 in Nashville.
Strait will become the second artist inducted in a category for artists who achieved national prominence between 1975 and the present. James will be inducted in a separate category for those who achieved career prominence between World War II and 1975. Bradley will be inducted in a category honoring recording and/or touring musicians active prior to 1980.
Strait, James and Bradley will increase membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame from 95 to 98 inductees. All Hall of Fame inductees are selected by a panel of more than 300 anonymous voters appointed by the board of directors of the Country Music Association.
George Strait remains one of the most successful and influential country artists of the past 25 years. Born May 18, 1952, in Poteet, Texas, and raised in nearby Pearsall, Strait was the son of a junior high school teacher who owned and operated a ranch that had been in his family for nearly 100 years. After graduating from high school and briefly attending college, Strait married his high school sweetheart, Norma, before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1971. While stationed in Hawaii, he began playing country music with an Army-sponsored group.
Discharged from the Army in 1975, Strait returned to Texas and enrolled in Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. He graduated in 1979 with a degree in agriculture, but he also formed the Ace in the Hole band and recorded a few albums for a Dallas-based independent record company. In 1979, Strait became friends with Erv Woolsey, a Texas club owner and former MCA Records employee. A year later, Strait was signed to MCA Records with Woolsey as his manager.
Strait’s debut single, “Unwound,” hit No. 6 on the country chart in 1981 and became a Top 10 hit. Ever since, he has had at least one single hit the Top 10. He landed his first No. 1 single, “Fool Hearted Memory,” in 1982, and his long string of Billboard No. 1 hits include “You Look So Good in Love,” “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” “The Chair,” “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” “Blue Clear Sky,” “Carrying Your Love With Me,” “Write This Down” and “She’ll Leave You With a Smile.”
From 1997 until 2001, he headlined the George Strait Country Music Festival. The day-long concerts at stadiums throughout the U.S. featured Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and several others.
Strait has sold more than 62 million albums, and his certifications from the RIAA include 13 multi-platinum, 30 platinum and 33 gold albums. According to the RIAA, he has received more Gold albums than any other country artist, and he is currently tied with Frank Sinatra in eighth place for the most gold albums of any artist in any musical genre. Strait has received 16 CMA Awards, including consecutive entertainer of the year honors in 1989 and 1990.
He will release his 34th MCA Nashville album, It Just Comes Natural, on Oct. 3.
Born James Hugh Loden on May 1, 1929, in Hackleburg, Ala., Sonny James was one of the most successful country artists of the ’60s and ’70s. Known as the Southern Gentleman, James recorded a string of singles that spent a total of 57 weeks in the No. 1 spot on the country chart between 1960 and 1979.
By the time he was 3, James was performing with his family at friends’ houses. In 1933, the family band began performing regularly on radio station WMSD in Muscle Shoals, Ala. After winning a regional talent competition, the group performed for two weeks on WAPI in Birmingham, Ala., where vocalist Kate Smith gave the child a silver dollar and predicted he would have a bright future as a musician. The Loden Family performed on radio stations in Arkansas and Mississippi before heading to WNOX in Knoxville, Tenn., in the mid-’40s. At the Knoxville station, James first came into contact with several notable musicians, including Chet Atkins and Earl Scruggs.
After finishing high school and serving a tour of duty in the National Guard during the Korean Conflict, James moved to Nashville and renewed his friendship with Atkins, who had become a successful recording artist and studio musician. Atkins arranged an audition with Capitol Records’ producer Ken Nelson. He changed his name to Sonny James before releasing his first Capitol single, “That’s Me Without You,” in 1953. He scored his first No. 1 in 1956 with “Young Love,” a single that spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the country chart and also topped the pop chart.
With a smooth vocal delivery and a sophisticated acoustic guitar style, James began hitting his stride in 1964 with the No. 1 single, “You’re the Only World I Know.” With a total of 23 No. 1 singles, James was never hesitant to put a country spin on songs that had been pop hits for others. His biggest hits include “Take Good Care of Her,” “I’ll Never Find Another You,” “A World of Our Own,” “Born to Be With You,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “My Love,” “Running Bear,” “It’s the Little Things” and “Only the Lonely.” Backed by his band and vocal group, the Southern Gentlemen, James toured the U.S. and overseas and made frequent TV appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bob Hope Show and The Andy Williams Show.
In 1961, James became the first country artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1967, he and Bobbie Gentry co-hosted the first-ever CMA Awards show. James moved to Columbia Records in 1972 and scored a string of Top 10 singles, including two that reached No. 1. He became involved in music publishing and producing other artists during the early ’70s. His production work with Marie Osmond includes three albums and her first No. 1 single, “Paper Roses,” in 1973. James retired from performing in 1983 to raise cattle in Alabama. He currently lives in Nashville.
One of the most prolific session musicians in the history of recorded music, Harold Bradley is a founding father of Nashville’s recording industry. Born Jan. 26, 1926, in Nashville, he is the brother of legendary record producer Owen Bradley, who himself was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1974.
Harold Bradley’s first instrument was a tenor banjo, but he soon began playing guitar and was touring as a member of Ernest Tubb’s band, the Texas Troubadours, during the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Bradley studied music at George Peabody College in Nashville while playing guitar for artists on the Grand Ole Opry. His first country music recording session took place in Chicago in 1946 with Pee Wee King & the Golden West Cowboys. When Nashville’s recording industry began to flourish in the late ’40s and early ’50s, he became in great demand as a guitarist and banjo player. Adept at rhythm, lead and bass guitar, he is credited with creating the “tic-tac” style of muting notes on the bass guitar.
Bradley and his brother built Castle Recording Studio, Nashville’s first recording facility, in the late ’40s. In 1955, they built the Bradley Film and Recording Studios as the first studio to be located in the area near downtown Nashville that became known as Music Row. They sold the studio to Columbia Records in 1962.
With a reputation as the Dean of Nashville Session Guitarists, Bradley was one of the city’s original “A Team” studio musicians. His session credits include numerous classics, including “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” (Red Foley); “Ballad of New Orleans” (Johnny Horton); “Jingle Bell Rock” (Bobby Helms); “I’m Sorry” (Brenda Lee); “Crazy” (Patsy Cline); “Only the Lonely” (Roy Orbison); “King of the Road” (Roger Miller); “Big Bad John” (Jimmy Dean); “Make the World Go Away” (Eddy Arnold); “Harper Valley PTA” (Jeannie C. Riley); “Stand by Your Man” (Tammy Wynette); “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (Loretta Lynn); and “Swingin'” (John Anderson). He also played on recordings by Joan Baez, Perry Como, Buddy Holly, Burl Ives, George Morgan, Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Conway Twitty, Gene Watson, Hank Williams and many others. As a solo artist, he recorded three albums of guitar instrumentals.
Bradley was the first president of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), and he has served as president of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in Nashville since 1991. He became vice president of the AFM International in 1999.