It was like a family reunion Wednesday morning (March 25) when singer Brenda Lee announced that the Browns, the Oak Ridge Boys and the late guitarist Grady Martin will be the 2015 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The ceremonies took place in the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. A capacity crowd of friends, family, business associates and media stood under the “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” inscription that encircles the space applauding each new announcement.
Standing on a box that’s become a part of her image, the 4-foot-11-inch Lee recounted personal associations with all three acts.
“He played on everything I ever recorded,” she said of the endlessly inventive Martin. “I wouldn’t do a session without him present. Sometimes that made (producer Owen Bradley) a little peeved.”
Turning her attention to the Browns, she remarked, “I started traveling with this family when I was 10 years old.”
A member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lee began singing professionally at the age of 6 and was a recording artist at 12.
She told the crowd the Browns were a solid influence on many other vocal groups, ranging from the Beatles to Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.
There was a solid tie-in with Oak Ridge Boys, as well. They provided the backing vocals for Lee’s 1980 Top 10 hit, “Broken Trust,” and recorded other songs with her.
Martin’s son, Joshua, who was there with several brothers and sisters, spoke on his father’s behalf, stressing his father’s cooperative spirit as a musician. He said he believed in “contributing to the greater good” of whatever performing or recording project he was involved in.
While acknowledging his father cast a long and sometimes obscuring shadow, the younger Martin, a guitarist himself, said, “It doesn’t bother me at all to be introduced as Grady Martin’s son.”
Looking fit and good-humored despite his continuing bout with lung cancer, Jim Ed Brown joked that being honored for the ultimate country music award left him at a loss for words.
“I’m as nervous as a mosquito in a nudist colony,” he said with practiced smoothness. “I know what to do, but I don’t know where to start.”
Ever the showman, Brown used the occasion to flack his new album, In Style Again.
“This past year has not been an easy one,” he said, his voice cracking. “Cancer is no fun.”
Sisters Maxine and Bonnie stood beside him, smiling at his patter, as he thanked, chronologically, the people who had been instrumental in enabling the Browns to have a career.
“I’m still in shock,” Bonnie said of their latest achievement.
“You won’t believe the hardships we’ve been through the last 63 years,” Maxine added. “This award from the Country Music Assn. will last a lifetime. . . . We’re so proud we’re getting the award while we’ve still got six feet above ground.”
Joe Bonsall, tenor singer for the Oaks, opened his remarks by saying, “Thank you to that secret committee (that elects Hall of Fame members) wherever they may be.” It is a running joke in the Nashville music industry that no one knows anyone who makes these selections.
In years past, Bonsall said he’s listened at home to the Hall of Fame announcements being made “down here.” And he said he’d agreed with the choices — citing Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap, specifically. Once he’d listened to the announcements, he said, he turned over in bed and went back to sleep.
“This year, we’re down here,” he proclaimed triumphantly and the crowd cheered. “Somebody else can turn over and go back to sleep.”
Lead singer Duane Allen was reverent in his remarks. He expressed his group’s gratitude to their long-time manager, Jim Halsey.
“He encouraged us before we knew where we could get the next biscuit,” Allen said.
He also gave a nod to the Statler Brothers, who for years were the only male vocal quartet recording for a major country music label.
“They opened the door that we walked through,” Allen observed.
And he praised the late Jim Foglesong, a Hall of Fame member himself, who signed the Oaks to ABC Dot Records (later MCA) after other labels in town had passed on them.
“He was our recording savior,” Allen concluded.
He thanked producer Ron Chancey for excelling in finding the rights song to help the Oaks segue successfully from gospel to country. One of these gems, he added, was the wildly popular “Elvira,” which became a No. 1 country and a No. 5 pop hit in 1981 and earned them a Grammy.
“It bought us all a new home,” he said.
William Lee Golden, the Oaks white-bearded baritone, spoke of leaving the family farm in Alabama 50 years ago to pursue his musical dreams. He remembered when listening to the Grand Ole Opry was the week’s highlight.
It was an act of common resolve, he said, for the Oaks to go beyond gospel and “sing songs that related to ourselves seven days a week rather than one day.”
He apologized with a twinkle in his eye for anything he might have done or said that delayed the group’s acceptance into the Hall of Fame.
Richard Sterban, the earth-shaking bass singer, marveled at the fact he’s been with the Oaks for 43 years.
He pointed out that before he joined the group, he had been a member of J.D. Sumner & the Stamps Quartet, a gig that enabled him to a two-year tenure as one of Elvis Presley’s backup singers. For that experience, Sterban said, he wanted to thank Presley.
Martin, the Browns and the Oak Ridge Boys will be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during ceremonies later this year.