Country Music Hall of Fame Selection Is a Nashville Guessing Game

At the Scene as Ronnie Milsap, Mac Wiseman and Hank Cochran Earn the Honor

Even reporters who have covered country music since the advent of vinyl records never guess correctly who’s going to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in any given year.

But they keep trying.

This year, it was no different. Now we know that the 2014 inductees are songwriter Hank Cochran and singers Mac Wiseman and Ronnie Milsap.

But as the crowd gathered for the official announcement Tuesday morning (April 22) at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, everyone was looking around for clues — or what they thought might be clues.

Several reporters were guessing Cochran, who died in 2010, simply because he was clearly in the same hit songwriting league with Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock, all of whom were already in the Hall of Fame.

Then, someone noticed veteran producer Tom Collins and ex-RCA Records chief Jerry Bradley chatting in the back of the room. That pointed to Milsap since Collins had produced his hits and Bradley had signed him to RCA.

However, no one was overheard predicting Wiseman, even though he’s been in the country music business since its infancy, not only as a bluegrass and country recording act but also as head of a record label, a bluegrass festival promoter and founding member of the Country Music Association — the organization that selects Hall of Fame members.

The announcements were revealed in an infuriatingly slow and tantalizing manner, with CMA publicist Wendy Pearl greeting the crowd and then introducing CMA CEO Sarah Trahern.

Trahern, in turn, introduced superstar and radio personality Kix Brooks. He proceeded to hand the ball off, in sequence, to Hall of Famers Bobby Bare, former CMA head Jo Walker-Meador and rising star Hunter Hayes, each of whom took his (or her) own sweet time to reveal, respectively, the names of Cochran, Wiseman and Milsap.

You could have grown a crop of wheat in the interim.

Bare told the crowd the person he was introducing “called himself ‘the Legend’ before he was a legend.” He said he’d met “the Legend” in California, along with a group of other musical upstarts that included Howard, Buck Owens, singer-songwriter-bandleader Wynn Stewart and Merle Haggard.

“Everyone in our group is in the Hall of Fame except Wynn Stewart — and he should be,” Bare said.

He noted the man he was describing “fell in love at least once a month — and he’d marry them!”

The last woman “the Legend” married, Bare observed, had stayed with him for more than two decades. With that, he announced Cochran’s name and asked the songwriter’s wife, Susan, to step forward to acknowledge her late husband’s induction.

(She later told this reporter that she’d actually been married to Cochran for 29 years.)

Walker-Meador, also a Hall of Fame member and the first executive director of the CMA, introduced Wiseman, reciting such musical milestones as his membership in both Bill Monroe‘s Blue Grass Boys band and in Flatt & Scruggs‘ Foggy Mountain Boys, as well as his tenancy as head of Dot Records’ country music division.

Always the genial raconteur, Wiseman spun out reminiscences about Cochran and Hall of Famer Eddy Arnold. A victim of childhood polio, Wiseman is now confined to a wheel chair because of complications of that disease.

Hayes dribbled out the hints that he was introducing Milsap, whom he cited as a role model. He recalled one of the first concerts he attended that really inspired him was one of Milsap’s.

“Let the celebration begin,” Milsap boomed as he was led to the podium. With obvious delight, the blind vocal stylist and pianist declared, “I’ve wanted to be in the Hall of Fame, I guess, as long as I can remember.”

Clearly, he has the credentials for that honor with 35 No. 1 singles to his credit.

Once all the new inductees were announced, photographers and TV crews lined up for the obligatory photo ops and sound bites.

Susan Cochran stood off to the side, talking to Jamey Johnson, who had released a tribute album to her husband, Livin’ for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran, in 2012. Buddy Cannon, the co-producer of that projected, lingered nearby.

With the suspense now dissipated, the onlookers drifted out or made one last visit to the breakfast bar.

Some were already guessing who’d make it into the Hall of Fame next year.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.