Two groundbreaking vocal groups with drastically different styles joined a fabled studio session musician as the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame during a star-studded, emotional Medallion Ceremony on October 25, 2015. Considered country music’s most prestigious event, the ceremony is the official induction of new Hall of Fame members.
Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, the Oak Ridge Boys and studio session great Grady Martin were feted with heartfelt testimonials and memorable performances of songs they made famous or, in Martin’s case, that he provided signature instrumental parts for on countless classic songs. The artists paying tribute varied widely in ages, backgrounds, and styles, which underscored the eclectic nature and crossover appeal of the musical contributions of the artists being honored.
“These men and women distinguished themselves through virtuosity, harmony and heart,” said Jody Williams, BMI executive and trustee on the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Officers and Trustees. Williams filled in for the ceremony’s usual host, museum CEO Kyle Young, whose mother died on October 13.
“They have made music that endures through decades,” Williams continued. “Tonight, we honor them—respectfully, formally, and enthusiastically—as country music masters.”
The inductions focus on paying tribute to the inductees, celebrating their stories with spoken and musical tributes and original videos that draw on photos, interviews and performances found in materials lovingly collected in the museum’s Frist Library and Archive. The result conveys the special talents, personalities and unique stories of each new Hall of Fame member and underscores why each inductee deserves the prestigious honor.
Musical tributes, with surprise guests, are always a highpoint of the Medallion Ceremony. Grady Martin’s celebration began with a performance of “El Paso” by Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, with Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill playing Grady Martin’s masterful guitar part. Vocalist Mandy Barnett, with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Duane Eddy on guitar, performed another Robbins hit, “Don’t Worry.”
In a poignant moment, guitarist Pete Wade, a longtime friend and colleague of Martin’s, brought with him a guitar Martin gave him, a Gibson 335 electric famously known as “Big Red.” Wade was joined by Buddy Miller, Americana music stalwart and musical director of the hit TV show Nashville. Miller sang a soul-stirring version of the heartbreaking Conway Twitty hit “Fifteen Years Ago,” with Wade’s emotional guitar support.
A Hall of Fame member always inducts the newcomers, officially welcoming them to the elite group. Brenda Lee quickly established her ties to Martin in her opening statement sharing, “I started recording with Grady when I was 10 years old. Grady meant the world to me, and he played on every one of my hits.” Joshua Martin, Grady’s son, accepted the Hall of Fame medallion on behalf of his family.
To celebrate Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, Texas swing specialist Carolyn Martin and Nashville roots-music favorite Chris Scruggs performed a rousing rendition of “Looking Back to See.”
Other performances included contemporary gospel music stalwarts the Isaacs, presenting a stunningly beautiful version of the Browns’ staple “The Three Bells.” The family band has recorded “The Three Bells” and performed it at Jim Ed Brown’s memorial service earlier this year.
Dierks Bentley toasted his fellow Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown with a colorful take on Brown’s best known single, “Pop a Top.” The contemporary country star referred to Brown as his “Opry dad,” adding, “He really took me under his wing and made me feel comfortable and welcome.”
Bobby Bare, a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, filled in for fellow Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, who had planned to give the induction speech for the Browns, but had to cancel because of illness.
Becky Brown, representing Jim Ed Brown, said her husband of 54 years didn’t look at success in terms of wealth and fame, but in terms of happiness. “He was happy,” she said. “He spent his whole life doing what he wanted to do, with people he loved, and for people he loved. He felt so blessed every day.”
Bonnie Brown spoke next, noting that it was the late Hall of Fame member Minnie Pearl’s birthday, so she quoted her famous saying, “I’m just so proud to be here.”
Bonnie ended by saying,
“I hate to turn this over to Maxine,” a joke about her sister’s reputation for colorful comments. Maxine Brown began by noting that Bonnie only joined the group because they were touring with Elvis Presley. More seriously, Maxine noted that their children made the biggest sacrifice because they were gone so much.
She introduced the band’s longtime manager, Tom Perryman and his wife, Billie, who traveled from Texas for the ceremony. The couple were pushing 90, Maxine said, “and still have their hair and teeth,” which drew uproarious laughter. Then revealing why Bare and her sister commented about her penchant for flamboyancy, Maxine said she once asked Billie, “How old do you have to be before you stop enjoying sex? And she told me, ‘Honey, you’ve got to ask somebody older than me.’”
For the musical portion of the tribute for the Oak Ridge Boys Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, an emergency replacement for Chris and Morgane Stapleton, whose travel plans were interrupted by flooding in Texas, performed “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” The Rodney Crowell song had been a #1 hit in 1980 for the Oak Ridge Boys.
Next, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood performed a delicate, touching version of the love song “I’ll Be True to You,” the Oak Ridge Boys’ first #1 hit, in 1978. With Brooks on acoustic guitar as the only musical accompaniment, Yearwood sang two verses, with her husband on harmony. Brooks took the last verse, and Yearwood joined in for the final chorus.
In a surprise to the Oak Ridge Boys, the Martin Family Circus bounded onstage. Featuring Duane Allen’s daughter Jamie Allen on vocals with support from her husband, Paul Martin, and their four children, the group delighted Allen, his vocal partners and the rest of the audience with an animated version of “Elvira.” The children—March, 17; Kell, 14; Texas, 10; and Tallant, 8—proved to be experienced stage performers as they drew out the celebratory, whimsical nature of the singalong hit.
Kenny Rogers, a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee like Bare, inducted the Oak Ridge Boys, saying, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here tonight.” Rogers and the vocal group often toured together in the 1970s. Each member of the band spoke about what the induction meant to him.
The audience at the private celebration was packed with Hall of Fame members, who welcomed the new inductees into their exclusive club. Hall of Famers in attendance were Bobby Bare, Harold Bradley, Garth Brooks, Roy Clark, Ralph Emery, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Ray Walker of The Jordanaires, Brenda Lee, Charlie McCoy, Randy Owen of Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Connie Smith, and E.W. “Bud” Wendell.
The evening ended, as always, with a performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Museum employee and ace guitarist Ben Hall, started the song off, performing an instrumental verse and chorus as the Hall of Fame members gathered at the front of the stage. The Oak Ridge Boys took turns singing the verses, with all the Hall of Famers present—and the theater audience—joining in on the choruses.