“I’m thinking it’s the Judds,” said one reporter as a crowd of music industry folk waited Wednesday morning (April 5) for the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame to be revealed.
“Could be Ricky Skaggs,” another scribe ventured. “It’s really his time.”
“I haven’t a clue,” said a third journalist. As it turned out, neither did the first two.
The identity of impending Hall of Fame members is always the best kept secret in a business that doesn’t keep many of them.
All the guessers, insiders and well-wishers were gathered for the ceremony in the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda, noshing on rich breakfast pastries and waving to old friends.
Circled above them on the rotunda wall in huge capital letters was the Hall of Fame motto, “WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN.” Meanwhile, the sound system pumped out songs made famous by those already in the Hall — among them Johnny Cash, Randy Travis and Kenny Rogers.
Charlie Daniels was already seated near the front of the room and soon after joined by the Oak Ridge Boys, who trailed in one by one. Then Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook of Alabama ambled in together, followed by fellow Hall of Famers Bobby Bare and Bobby Braddock.
Photographers dutifully recorded each new arrival of note.
In welcoming the crowd, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young continued the suspense by declaring that the new inductees were “not merely the great [among country artists] but the inarguably indelible.”
Glancing up at rays of sun beaming through the tall rotunda windows, Young said, “Regardless of the weather, this is always country music’s brightest morning of the year.”
Finally, Vince Gill, also a member of the Hall, took to the podium to end the guessing games by announcing that the late guitarist, songwriter, recording artist and actor Jerry Reed, songwriter Don Schlitz and superstar Alan Jackson were the latest additions to the Hall of Fame.
Reed’s daughters, Seidina and Lottie, stepped forward to respond to his selection.
“Daddy did work very hard,” Lottie added. “He was always trying to perfect his craft.”
She said he would be practicing his guitar when she went to bed and be at it again when she work up. Her mother, she said, reported that Reed even tapped his foot and mouthed words to songs when he was sleeping.
Gill, who read the credentials of each new inductee before revealing the name of the next one, complimented the sisters for getting through their remarks without tipping off the crowd to who the other inductees were. It was a reference to Mac Wiseman doing just that the year his inducti was announced alongside Charlie Daniels and Randy Travis.
When Schlitz — who wrote “The Gambler” and “Forever and Ever, Amen” among an array of other hits — came out to make his acceptance speech, he focused on how difficult it was to keep his induction a secret. He said the head of the Country Music Association, which supervises the selection of Hall of Fame members, had called him on March 5 and told him of his selection. She asked him if he’d be available on April 5 to acknowledge his honor.
In the meantime, he said, he was told to keep mum about the whole thing. He then recited the classes of people he was aching to tell the news — his family, friends, co-writers, mentors, financial advisers, recording artists, radio programmers and on and on. But he said he wound up telling only his wife and his financial adviser.
He joked that he and his wife had to check their calendars and “move some things around” to be available for the official revelation.
The honor was so overwhelming, he continued, that he could accept it only as a representative of all the people who had enabled this achievement. To them, he said he could proclaim, “Look what we’ve done!”
After the applause for Schlitz subsided, the reliably irreverent Gill cracked, “The only things he moved around [on his calendar] were breakfast with me and a colonoscopy.”
When he recited Jackson’s long list of achievements, Gill concluded by asserting, “Nobody’s stuck up more for country music than this gentleman. Nobody.”
Jackson strolled out to the loudest and longest applause of the morning. He devoted most of his remarks to explaining how his father had been his greatest inspiration, first by winning a radio on which he could listen to country music (as chronicled in his early hit, “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow”) and then by encouraging him to perform.
He noted that the radio his father won now resides in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, along with his water skis (made famous in his “Chattahoochee” video) and his blue jeans with holes in them.
Now with his induction, Jackson said, “I’m going to be here with my radio.”