Country Music Hall of Fame Elects Oak Ridge Boys, Browns, Grady Martin

Announcement Made Wednesday Morning in Nashville

The Oak Ridge Boys, Jim Ed Brown and the Browns and legendary guitarist Grady Martin have been selected as the next inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee made the announcements Wednesday morning (March 25) during a press conference hosted by the Country Music Association at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville.

The Oak Ridge Boys will be inducted in the modern era category, the Browns in the veteran era category and Martin as a recording and/or touring musician active prior to 1980.

The official inductions will take place later this year during a medallion ceremony in Nashville.

The Oak Ridge Boys
The Oak Ridge Boys trace their musical roots to 1945 when gospel impresario Wally Fowler assembled the Oak Ridge Quartet. For years, the Oaks, in numerous incarnations, focused on gospel music, the pursuit of which earned them both Grammy and Dove Awards. But it was the current quartet membership — formed in 1973 and made up of lead vocalist Duane Allen, baritone William Lee Golden, tenor Joe Bonsall and bass singer Richard Sterban — that transformed the group into a world-renowned country music act.

Their muscular, hard-driving vocals, infused with Southern gospel buoyancy, not only propelled them repeatedly to the top of the charts, it also enabled them to fill stadiums and build an international audience. In 1976, the Oaks became the first country group to tour the Soviet Union. Between 1973 (when they charted their first country single) and 1991, the Oaks scored 17 No. 1 singles and 18 Top 10’s, including such standards as “Y’All Come Back Saloon,” “Fancy Free,” “Bobby Sue,” “American Made” and the crossover hit and Grammy-winner, “Elvira.” The Oaks, who continue to tour and record, have been members of the Grand Ole Opry since 2011.

The Browns
With their mellow harmonies and dreamy delivery, the Browns epitomized the smooth “Nashville Sound” that kept country music flourishing throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Maxine Brown and her younger brother, Jim Ed, launched their recording career in 1954 with their self-penned “Looking Back to See.” It went to No. 8 and was instrumental in getting them a deal with RCA Records the following year. By then, younger sister Bonnie had joined the act. The Browns played the Louisiana Hayride, the Ozark Jubilee and toured with Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves before setting their sights on Nashville.

Although they regularly spun out Top 10 hits, among them “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing,” it wasn’t until 1959 that they scored a No. 1 with “The Three Bells.” Its success was phenomenal — and worldwide. It topped the country chart for 10 weeks, the pop chart for four and even went Top 10 on the R&B chart. The Beatles, who may have become aware of the Browns when they toured Europe in 1957, told Dick Clark on American Bandstand that the trio was one of their favorite vocal groups.

The Browns pressed on with such folk- and pop-flavored hits as “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” and “The Old Lamplighter” and performed them on such network variety programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Arthur Murray Party. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. Four years later, Maxine and Bonnie left the act to care for their growing families. Jim Ed continued to record and tour, first as a solo act and then with singing partner Helen Cornelius. The Browns still occasionally sing on the Opry.

Grady Martin
In a recording and performing career that lasted 50 years, Grady Martin distinguished himself as one of country music’s most versatile and influential guitarists. Born Jan. 17, 1929, in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, Martin began playing professionally at 15, initially as a fiddler. He served his musical apprenticeship in such bands as Big Jeff and His Radio Playboys and Paul Howard’s Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Soon after Little Jimmy Dickens came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, Martin became a founding member of Dickens’ Country Boys band. Martin took a turn as a recording artist for Decca Records in the early 1950s. Grady Martin and His Slew Foot Five charted two country singles, both in 1952 — “Wild Side Of Life” with Burl Ives (No. 6) and “Til the End of the World” with Bing Crosby (No. 10). He subsequently served a stint as Red Foley’s band leader on the Ozark Jubilee television series.

It was as a studio musician, however, that Martin made his most indelible impressions. His distinctive guitar licks leap out on such classics as Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man,” Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and Jeanne Pruett’s “Satin Sheets.” That’s his guitar creating the “fuzz” effect on Robbins’ “Don’t Worry About Me.” After departing from session work in the mid-1970s, Martin returned to performing. He toured with Jerry Reed. Then, in 1980, he joined Willie Nelson’s band, where he stayed until 1994 when health problems forced him to retire. Martin died in Lewisburg, Tennessee, on Dec. 3, 2001. He was the first recipient of the Nashville Music Association’s Masters Award.

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