Who the Country Music Hall of Fame Should Induct Next
For years the Country Music Hall of Fame was caught in the position where many deserving performers had died off before their turn for induction arrived. This was mostly due to the Hall’s practice of electing only one new member per year (and in at least one year, electing no one).
By the time the Hall of Fame opened up in 1961 with the election of Hank Williams, Fred Rose and Jimmie Rodgers, there was already a significant backlog of deserving inductees. Roy Acuff was the first living inductee in 1962 and then, inexplicably, no one was elected in 1963. Tex Ritter was elected in 1965 followed by Ernest Tubb. In 1966 and 1967 there were multiple members selected, then back to one a year unless there was a tie in the voting. In the early years, election of a comedian, producer or executive meant that no singing star would be elected.
Finally, in 1996 the CMHOF started consciously electing three new inductees per year, using categories to sort the candidates. In 2001, an attempt was made to clean up the backlog with induction of ten acts, including the grotesquely overdue inductions of Webb Pierce and the Louvin Brothers.
At this point the backlog is largely cleared up so it is time to assess those in more current memory. Here is my take on who should be inducted, in order of precedence:
- Connie Smith
The genre’s best female singer ever. Period.
- Jean Shepard
A true pioneer among country females. Unlike Kitty Wells , who stepped back into the traditional role after her initial success, Jean Shepard never gave in. Her Dreams of An Old Love Affair was the first concept album ever, and she was the prototype for Loretta Lynn and other feisty purveyors of in-your-face defiance.
- Jimmy Dean
Known today for his breakfast sausages, but was a pioneering television personality who brought country music to the attention of national audiences through his CBS television series in 1957-1958 and his ABC television series from 1963-1966. Jimmy introduced many acts to the American public, including Rowlf the Muppet. Along the way, Dean had several major country hits, including “Big Bad John” and “PT 109,” both of which were also major pop hits.
- Barbara Mandrell
A leading performer and television personality and a top flight musician who could play virtually any instrument and play it well.
- Reba McEntire
What more needs to be said about Reba.
- Ronnie Milsap
I’m not a big Milsap fan but the breadth and depth of his catalog reveals a supremely gifted performer capable of handling any genre of music. Fortunately, he chose Country Music as his area of concentration.
- Dallas Frazier
Probably the greatest songwriter not named Merle Haggard or Harlan Howard. I would rate him above any of the other country songwriters living or dead and his catalog is full of huge pop, country and R&B hits. “Alley Oop” or “Elvira” anyone?
- Hank Williams, Jr.
Hank is overdue for induction. So talented a singer and performer is he that even if he had merely continued as a straight-ahead mainstream performer, he would be worthy of induction as his early singles such as “Eleven Roses,” “Divorce or Destroy,” “Pride’s Not Hard To Swallow” and “Standing In The Shadows” still hold up today.
- Tanya Tucker
Very few female performers have left a legacy of great music as deep as that of Tanya Tucker. I would rate Ms Tucker over either Mandrell or McEntire strictly on their musical catalog (Tanya’s best songs blow the best songs of Reba or Barbara out of the water) . Her early records were American Gothic’s last stand.
- Ray Stevens
Normally I would not advocate comedians for the CMHOF (I think Rod Brasfield and Duke of Paducah were horrible mistakes), but Ray Stevens is so much more than merely a comedian — record producer, song writer, session musician and major pop and country music star. Ray’s songs ranged from the merely funny to biting satire and social commentary.
- The Oak Ridge Boys
The mighty Oaks started out as a gospel group and a very fine one. Along the way they appeared on records by Paul Simon and Johnny Cash before making the transition to major country music stars. Starting in the middle of 1977, they ran off a string of hits that ran for a dozen years, including some of the most memorable songs of the period including “Elvira”, “Fancy Free” and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”. Twenty-one of their records made it to #1 on one or more of the major charts (Billboard, Cashbox, Record World).
They continue to perform to this day. They have largely returned to their gospel roots, but are still capable of making good secular music, even if modern country radio can’t be bothered to play it.
All of the artists named above are still alive, as I feel the time to honor someone is while they can still appreciate the honor. Wynn Stewart and Jerry Reed both belong in, as does Skeeter Davis, but since they are no longer here, the urgency is gone.
There are two journalists worthy of consideration: Chet Flippo and Robert K. Oermann. I could also make an argument for John Morthland.
A great case can be made for Mac Wiseman–maybe the best bluegrass vocalist ever–and for the Osborne Brothers. I would be delighted to see Jimmy Martin inducted, but bluegrass has its own inner circle and all of these fellows are in it.
Wanda Jackson requires special consideration. I think the case for inducting her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is much stronger than for her being in the CMHOF, however, I would not object to her being inducted into the CMHOF.
I can make a decent argument for Jim Ed Brown, Jack Greene, Crystal Gayle, and Anne Murray, but won’t at this time.
Future years will find us considering Gene Watson, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, Randy Travis and countless others, but this is what the pecking order should be for the next few years.
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