Country Music Hall of Fame Inducts Mac Wiseman, Hank Cochran, Ronnie Milsap

Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Gene Watson, Charlie Daniels Among Those Singing Tributes

Bluegrass and country vocalist Mac Wiseman, the late songwriter Hank Cochran and country and R&B stylist Ronnie Milsap were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during an invitation-only event Sunday evening (Oct. 26) at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Performing songs the three men made famous were Jim Lauderdale, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Gene Watson, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), Hunter Hayes and Martina McBride.

Because each new member is presented a bronze medallion as part of the induction, the event is called the “medallion ceremony.”

All three inductees endured childhood hardships before surfacing as artists. Wiseman was crippled by polio, Cochran spent his early years in an orphanage and Milsap was shipped off at the age of 6.

Wiseman is 89, Milsap 71 and Cochran, who died in 2010, would have been 79.

Guests arriving for the ceremony were welcomed in the museum’s reception area by waiters bearing trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. A more lavish reception was held on the sixth floor after the honors were conferred.

Spotted in the crowd were Country Music Hall of Fame members Brenda Lee, Charley Pride, Randy Owen (of Alabama), Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Bill Anderson, Ralph Emery, Harold Bradley, Charlie McCoy, Jo Walker-Meador and E.W. “Bud” Wendell.

As customary, the proceedings opened with the playing of a historic recording from the Hall of Fame’s Bob Pinson Collection. This year it was Clifton Chenier’s infectious “Bogalusa Boogie.”

Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, hosted. He began by asking for a moment of silence in memory of two Hall of Fame members who died during the past year, Ray Price and Phil Everly.

Wiseman’s segment began with videos of him performing such signature tunes as “Love Letters in the Sand” and “We Live in Two Different Worlds.” In a recently taped interview video, he noted he has recorded more than 800 songs. Then he added with a grin, “That’s a pretty good start.”

This year he released the album Songs From My Mother’s Hand.

In a musical salute to Wiseman, Lauderdale sang “Goin’ Like Wildfire,” Daniels belted out “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy,” a Top 5 for Wiseman in 1959, and Gill unleashed his incomparable tenor voice on “’Tis Sweet to Be Remembered.”

Speaking of Wiseman, Daniels told the crowd, “He’s been an idol of mine since I learned my first three chords on the guitar.”

In addition to his achievements as a solo artist, Wiseman worked as a sideman for such musical luminaries as Molly O’Day, Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt. He also distinguished himself in the late 1950s and early ’60s as an A&R manager for Dot Records.

Wiseman was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

Walker-Meador, a former executive director of the Country Music Association, awarded Wiseman his medallion. She praised him for being instrumental in the formation of the CMA.

“He gave not only ideas, but he did the work, as well,” she said. “He was invaluable to me (because) I knew nothing about country music then.”

Now confined to a wheelchair, Wiseman nonetheless looked jaunty in his newsboy cap as he came onstage to accept the crowd’s applause.

“I’ve tried to be true to myself,” he said, “and give back the best that I could. … I think a reason for the great endurance (of country music) is that it’s such a slice of life. … I firmly believe that people don’t change. We just get a new batch.”

The focus then switched to Cochran, who was shown singing such of his compositions as “All of Me Belongs to You,” “That’s All That Matters to Me” and “I Don’t Do Windows.” There was a clip, as well, of his giving his succinct tips to other songwriters: “Make it short, make it sweet, make it rhyme.”

Cochran followed his own advice in the creation of such classics as “She’s Got You,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “I’d Fight the World,” “Why Can’t He Be You,” “Funny Way of Laughin’,” “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad),” “Set ’Em Up Joe,” “The Chair” and “Ocean Front Property.”

Krauss riveted the crowd with her transcendent renditions of Cochran’s “Make the World Go Away” and “Don’t Touch Me.” Watson had the crowd cheering after he sang the first line of Cochran’s woeful “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me),” which, providentially enough, was a No. 1 for Milsap in 1989.

“Funny Way of Laughin'” earned Burl Ives a Grammy in 1962, and “Don’t Touch Me,” recorded by Jeannie Seely, then Cochran’s wife, won her a Grammy in 1966. Seely, a Grand Ole Opry star, sat in the audience admiring Krauss’ performance of the song.

Bare, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year, came forward to present the medallion to Cochran’s widow, Suzi.

Bare related that he met Cochran in California, along with such other emerging country stars as Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart, more than 60 years ago.

Cochran preceded him to Nashville, Bare said, to take a job managing Pamper Music, a publishing company co-owned by Price.

When Bare told Cochran he, too, was moving to Nashville to “get married and have a bunch of kids,” his often-wedded friend responded, “I know a place in Springfield (Tennessee) where you can get married in an hour. I’ve done it several times.”

Bare said Cochran’s songwriting instincts were unbeatable.

“He could feel things that nobody else could feel (and) he was shameless when it came to getting his songs recorded. … He was like a heat-seeking missile,” he said. “He knew you were hot (as a recording artist) or going to be hot before you did.”

Cochran’s marrying ways concluded in 1981, Bare said, when he met Suzi, “from a rich and aristocratic family in Pittsburgh.”

Bare said Suzi’s father was initially suspicious of the new suitor and how he earned his living, but Cochran soon charmed him by singing a song he said he’d just written for his beloved. That song was “I’d Fight the World,” which, Bare noted wryly was hardly a “newbie” since he — Bare — had recorded it 20 years earlier.

“It breaks my heart that it’s me standing here and not Hank,” his widow said. “Hank was a dreamer, as many songwriters are.”

Suzi said two of his dreams had just been fulfilled — being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having Krauss sing one of his songs.

She said that Shirley, Cochran’s “first and third wife,” had given her letters that Cochran wrote to her early in his career as a songwriter.

Once, in a moment of despair, he had written, “I guess things were not meant to be … and I just don’t care anymore.”

Ultimately, though, he not only cared but persevered. A year after he wrote the letter, Patsy Cline sang his “I Fall to Pieces” to No. 1. That song now resides in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Milsap’s segment, the final one of the evening, began with videos of him performing “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life” and “(I’m a) Stand by My Woman Man,” two of Milsap’s string of 35 No. 1 singles, and the Top 5 “Stranger in My House.”

Six of his singles also won Grammys: “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends,” “(I’m a) Stand by My Woman Man,” “(There’s) No Gettin Over Me,” “Stranger in My House,” “Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)” and “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine” (a duet with Kenny Rogers).

Moore and Gill were the first to sing a tribute to Milsap. Moore told the crowd of working a show in Washington, D.C., in 1965 and hearing an opening act that at first sounded like Ray Charles. It was, of course, Milsap.

When he saw who it was, he rushed back to tell his singing partner, “Dave, it’s a white boy.”

Gill joked that he and Moore had just gotten a record deal under the name “Sam and a Lighter Shade of Dave.”

“Just help me with the damn song,” Moore retorted. And with that, they wailed a heart-melting version of “Lost in the Fifties Tonight.” Contributing greatly to their impact on the crowd was Mark Douthit’s soaring saxophone riffs.

Other than Douthit, who played only on the Milsap segment, the Medallion Band was made up of leader and keyboardist John Hobbs, drummer Eddie Bayers, steel guitarist Paul Franklin, electric guitarist Steve Gibson, bassist Michael Rhodes, fiddler and mandolinist Deanie Richardson, acoustic guitarist Biff Watson, vocalist and fiddler Laura Weber Cash and guitarist and vocalist Jeff White.

“There’s something about Ronnie Milsap’s music,” Hayes said when he took the spotlight to sing “(There’s) No Getting Over Me.” “There’s no part that you don’t want to sing along with.”

In superb voice, McBride wrapped up the tribute with “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time.”

Originally, Reba McEntire was scheduled to give Milsap his Hall of Fame award, but she had to bow out at the last minute because of the death of her father.

Lee stepped in for McEntire. She said when Milsap arrived in Nashville in 1972 to begin his long run as the featured artist at the King of the Road hotel, talent manager Jack D. Johnson asked her to go see Milsap perform.

“He’s not country,” said Johnson, who was then managing Charley Pride, “and I don’t know how to handle him.”

After seeing Milsap wow the crowd with just his voice and piano, Lee said she told Johnson, “Jack, I don’t know what you’re going to do with him, but don’t let him get away.”

Lee pointed out the common hardships that united her emotionally with Milsap — she becoming the sole support of her impoverished family when she was 8 and he having to leave his family for the strangeness and hostility of a faraway school when he was 6.

She mused that these factors — first regarded as disadvantages — may have been just what they needed to focus on survival and, ultimately, success.

When Milsap interrupted her remarks with an irreverent one of his own, the diminutive and clearly amused Lee hissed, “I’m going over there with this medal, and you’d better bend over.”

“To be inducted by the great Brenda Lee is the best it’ll ever get,” Milsap told the crowd. He reserved his greatest praise for his family, particularly his wife Joyce, who urged him to leave his studio work and live performing in Memphis to break new ground in Nashville.

High also on his list of thanks were his longtime producer Tom Collins, manager Burt Stein and Jerry Bradley, who signed him to RCA Records and “coached” him through many of his hits.

Determined not to leave anyone out, Milsap concluding by thanking his physical therapist — by name — for keeping him fit for the road.

The evening concluded with the new and old Hall of Fame members and the crowd singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the title of which is inscribed above the bronze plaques in the Hall of Fame rotunda.

View photos from the medallion ceremony.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.