“So who’s it gonna be?” reporters and guests asked each other as they flocked into the rotunda of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Wednesday morning (April 10) to hear the names announced of the newest Hall of Fame inductees.
Of course, some of the guests already knew who the lucky few were since they had family or business connections with them. But they weren’t talking.
Although it’s home to a business that’s riddled with rumors and speculations, Music Row does a pretty good job of keeping secret the names of those tagged to receive country music’s highest honors.
Flowing past walls covered with the bronze plaques of already-inducted Hall of Famers, a steady stream of new arrivals headed straight for the pastries and coffee table. Others rushed to occupy seats that gave them the best view of the speaker’s stand.
Then the guessing game began in earnest. The more alert observers may have noticed Kenny Rogers’ manager in the crowd. And wasn’t that Bobby Bare’s son standing off to the side? A few sharp eyes probably spied Cowboy Jack Clement easing into the curtained off “tunnel” that led backstage.
But none of these sightings was counted as definitive. After all, on Music Row everybody is connected in some way to everybody else. Just being there proved nothing.
And so we sat there making guesses as the sound system pumped out Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Emmylou Harris’ “Save the Last Dance for Me,” Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country” and Lee Brice’s “Hard to Love.”
Country Music Association chief Steve Moore stood at the front of the room, attentively checking out the crowd. Then he spotted one of his predecessors, Jo Walker Meador (a Hall of Famer), and gallantly escorted her to her second-row seat, his arm protectively around her waist.
Finally, it was time. Moore welcomed the crowd and announced that this year’s medallion ceremony — at which new Hall of Famers are formally inducted — will be held at the museum’s new theater. Then he introduced Grand Ole Opry star Bill Anderson, another Hall of Fame member, to announce the names.
Living up to his “Whispering Bill” sobriquet, Anderson theatrically whispered his thank you to Moore before proceeding in his usual earnest and upbeat voice.
He was hardly into the second sentence of his description of the first inductee before everyone knew he was talking about Clement, who had been chosen in the “non-performing” category, even though he has performed on and off for most of his career.
At Anderson’s bidding, Clement entered on his daughter Alison’s arm and got a standing ovation.
“Sit down and rest,” he told his well-wishers, before taking a seat himself. He has been ill lately and thus allowed his daughter to speak for him.
“You’ve finally done it,” she said, “you’ve rendered Cowboy speechless.”
She noted that the five minutes allotted her was too brief to chronicle her father’s many accomplishments, but she did an eloquent job trying. She cited by name the legion of people who’ve collaborated with or been influenced by him and praised his “cheerleader spirit” for convincing artists to take risks with their music — such as persuading Cash that he should put mariachi horns on his recording of “Ring of Fire.”
She spoke of his particularly close relationships with songwriter Dickey Lee and producer-songwriter Allen Reynolds and likened the pattern of her father’s artistic life to a “Cowboy quilt” in which everyone close to him has a place.
Bare came on next, representing the “veteran era” artist.
“This is very, very huge,” he drawled as he leaned on the podium and waited for the crowd to stop cheering.
He recalled his early days on the West Coast, performing in the same bar scene as his friend Wynn Stewart and of working with legendary broadcast personality and songwriter Cliffie Stone.
Lacking both money and a car, he said he lived for a long time on the charity of Harlan and Jan Howard, first in California, then in Nashville when the couple moved there.
With obvious pride, he said his first album sold so well that he was never in debt to RCA Records, the label to which star-maker Chet Atkins had signed him. He paid tribute as well to another mentor, Tex Ritter.
He said that when he and his wife-to-be, Jeannie, dropped by to see Ritter in Dallas, the older performer censoriously grumbled, “I knew her when she was a virgin.”
Turning to the subject of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Bare declared, “This is the validation of a dream a 16- or 17-year-old boy had back in the hills of Ohio. … How do you top that?”
Rogers was the last to emerge into the media spotlight. Gesturing toward the plaques that surrounded him, Rogers told the crowd, “This is truly rarefied air you’re breathing here.”
Although born in the 1930s like Clement and Bare, Rogers was picked to represent the “modern era,” chiefly because his greatest country hits came in the ’70s and ’80s.
While denying he was there to promote it, Rogers announced that he’d just finished recording an album for Warner Bros.
He spent most of his time thanking the people who have surrounded and supported him professionally, from his various managers to his lawyer and publicist. He reserved his warmest regards, however, for his mother, who advised him never to be content with where he was but to always be happy while he was there.
He joked about the tribulations of being the father of 8-year-old identical twin sons at his advanced age. (He’s approaching 75.)
But, with his voice breaking, he added, “I’m so glad this happened in my lifetime so I could share it with my boys.”