Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, the Statler Brothers and country-bluegrass music pioneer Ernest “Pop” Stoneman are the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The inductions were announced Tuesday (Feb. 12) at a press conference held at the Ford Theater in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Except for Stoneman, who died in 1968, all the new members were on hand to comment on the honor. With the addition of these four figures, the Hall of Fame will have 105 members.
Although membership in the Hall of Fame is conferred by the Country Music Association, this is the first year the inductions will be entirely separate from the CMA Awards Show, where they used to be formally recognized. This year, the official induction will take place at the annual medallion ceremony tentatively set for April 27.
“I’ve got some pretty good stuff [to say],” Hall noted when he came to the speaker’s stand, “but I’m going to save it for the medallion ceremony where they’ve got a bigger crowd.”
Recalling all the times his friends had been disappointed because he wasn’t picked for this honor, Hall continued, “I figured they had different categories [and] I was in the dead zone. … The best part of being in the Hall of Fame is how happy it makes the people around you.”
Hall said the first thing he thought of when he learned of his selection was, “What can they do to me now?” Being chosen, he said puckishly, means “you don’t have to be nice anymore. It’s an amazing liberation.”
A formidable songwriter whom Tex Ritter dubbed “The Storyteller,” Hall wrote and recorded such hits as “(Old Dogs-Children And) Watermelon Wine,” “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” “I Love” and “I Like Beer.” He also wrote the Jeannie C. Riley smash, “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which later became a movie and a TV series.
“We have always looked at the Hall of Fame as the place our heroes lived,” said the Statler Brothers’ Don Reid, as he stood beside fellow members Harold Reid, Phil Balsley and Jimmy Fortune. “We feel like we’re in rarefied air here.”
Beginning their country career with Johnny Cash in the early ’60s, the Statlers went on to become one of the biggest recording and touring acts in country music history. They retired in 2002. Both their original tenor, the late Lew DeWitt, and his replacement, Fortune, are also being inducted.
Harris spoke of falling in love with country music when she was in high school and living in Woodbridge, Va., near where her Marine father was stationed. She said she listened faithfully to a folk music show on a Washington, D. C., radio station, WAMU, as she learned her first chords on a cheap guitar her uncle had given her. But it was meeting Gram Parsons later, she explained, that really taught her to appreciate country music.
“It’s the music that gave me my true voice,” she said.
Harris’ string of hits stretches back to 1975 and includes “Together Again,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Two More Bottles of Wine” and “Red Dirt Girl.”
The most enthusiastic response came from Stoneman’s oldest surviving child, Patsy Stoneman Murphy. With his 1924 recording of “The Titanic,” which became a national hit, Stoneman blazed the trail for country music well before the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made their breakthrough three years later. Indeed it was Stoneman who talked recording pioneer Ralph Peer into coming to Bristol, Tenn., to make the historic recordings that are now regarded as the beginning of country music.
Murphy recalled that the Stoneman family band was prosperous enough to have two houses, two maids, a babysitter and a fancy touring car until the Depression came along and reduced them to poverty. Of Stoneman’s 23 children, 13 lived to adulthood and became musicians. Murphy introduced her two surviving siblings who sat in the audience, Roni, of Hee Haw fame, and Donna. “We’re still playing,” Murphy said. “We ain’t got no sense.”
Murphy became so involved in telling stories that she ran past her allotted time and had to be gently ushered from the stage. Charmed by her anecdotes, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Disc jockey and country music historian Eddie Stubbs explained the elder Stoneman’s musical significance. TV host and Hall of Fame member Ralph Emery introduced Hall. Marshall Grant, who played bass in Johnny Cash’s band before becoming the Statler Brothers’ manager, presented the Statlers. And producer Tony Brown, a former member of Harris’ Hot Band, introduced her.