© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
A long Lincoln Town Car glided to a stop outside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The driver hustled to open the back door, and Reba McEntire with her husband Narvel Blackstock emerged into a flurry of cheers and camera flashes. As they waved to hundreds of onlookers, Blackstock chuckled, patted the luxury vehicle and quipped, “It’s a cheap car.”
This was just one of many red carpet moments that symbolized the bonds between artists and fans in the hours leading up to the 2011 Medallion Ceremony, marking the induction of three new members into CMA’s Country Music Hall of Fame: Bobby Braddock, the first in the new rotating Songwriter category; Jean Shepard in the Veterans Era Artist category; and Reba, known worldwide by her first name alone, in the Modern Era Artist category.
In fact, fans were more engaged than ever with this annual event. Thanks in large part to CMA’s outreach via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail alerts, the turnout along Demonbreun Street was bigger than ever before. To accommodate these numbers, the Museum extended the red carpet beyond its usual straight line to the curb and running it about halfway toward Fourth Avenue. And as special thanks, staff members ran trivia contests and handed out rewards to the winners, including a grand prize of admission to the pre-ceremony reception in the Museum’s lobby. (The winners were Alan and Mary Harrison of Perth, Australia.)
That reception, as always, was a glittering and festive affair, where music industry leaders, special guests and Hall of Fame members mingled until the doors to the Ford Theater opened and the inductions began. There, following a welcome from Kyle Young, Director, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the traditional President’s Hymn, featuring Vince Gill and the McCrary Sisters in a spirit-raising rendition of “Down by the Riverside,” the Museum’s Board Chairman, Steve Turner, and CMA CEO Steve Moore reflected on the evening’s honorees.
Over the next several hours, the highlights were many as Young recounted each honoree’s story and great artists paid their musical and personal tributes. All performances were backed by the Medallion All-Star Band: John Hobbs (musical director and keyboards), Eddie Bayers (drums), Paul Franklin (steel guitar), Steve Gibson (electric guitar), Michael Rhodes (bass), Deanie Richardson (fiddle and mandolin) and Biff Watson (acoustic guitar), with backup vocals by Dawn Sears and Jeff Whit.
Preceding Braddock’s induction, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton took a break from their honeymoon to perform the George Jones/Tammy Wynette No. 1 hit “Golden Ring” (written by Braddock and Rafe Van Hoy); Tracy Lawrence sang one of two Braddock compositions he had taken to the top of the charts, “Time Marches On”; and Billy Currington delivered the Braddock/Troy Jones hit “People Are Crazy.”
Later, Shepard would hear some of her landmark songs, with Bill Anderson and Elizabeth Cook recreating her classic recording with Ferlin Husky, “A Dear John Letter” (Billy Barton, Fuzzy Owen and Lewis Talley); Vince Gill masterfully delivering “I Want to Go Where No One Knows Me” (Ken Grant and Jerry Jericho); and Ranger Doug Green of Riders in the Sky applying his virtuoso yodeling to “Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)” (Betty Amos and Guy Willis).
Reba’s induction was heralded by Trisha Yearwood, who was joined by Reba’s sister Susie McEntire Eaton on “How Blue” (John Moffatt); Gill returning to do the sadly eloquent “Somebody Should Leave” (Harlan Howard and Chick Rains); Garth Brooks offering “Whoever’s in New England” (Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers); and Kelly Clarkson and Martina McBride turning “Does He Love You” (Sandy Knox and Billy Stretch), which Reba had cut with Linda Davis, into an ovation-triggering tour de force.
Only at Medallion Ceremonies, though, does wonderful music meet its match in personal recollections. Bill Anderson shared stories of his long friendship with Braddock. One conversation came to mind, where he was regaling his colleague about the genius of Roger Miller. “I said, ‘Bobby, can you imagine a man writing a song called “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me?” Roger Miller wrote that.’ But Bobby never missed a beat,” Anderson noted. “He said, ‘Yeah? And the last word in Kroger is Roger.’” Then Anderson elicited moments of hushed emotion and waves of laughter by simply reciting lyrics from Braddock compositions before calling up his friend to accept his Medallion.
Characteristically self-deprecating but also evidently moved, Braddock observed, “As I look out here and see my beloved family and close friends and leaders in the music community, the people here singing my songs and singing praises to me, it’s like getting to go to your own funeral without having to die.” Then he joined the band on keyboard and vocal for “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” his immortal ballad written with Curly Putnam, with George Jones unobtrusively slipping onto the stage to sing the final verse and the band augmented by three more participants in the original recording session: guitarist Jimmy Caps, harmonica wizard Charlie McCoy and backup singer Millie Kirkham.
Jones then took to the podium to introduce Shepard with a brief anecdote of going on his first tour with her at age 22. When she joined him as the room filled with cheers and applause, she opened with her own nod to the past. “George,” Shepard said, deadpan, “thanks for showing up.” She then looked back to her own early years in the business. Female headliners were nonexistent in Country at the time; even so, Shepard said, “I hung in there like a hair on a grilled-cheese.” Then, noting that “there have been a lot of changes in Country Music – I love some of them,” Shepard asserted “I’m strictly a traditionalist and I make no bones about it. I love my music. I love what I do and I do what I love.” She then joined the band for a beautiful and touching performance of the Joe Hayes and Jack Rose song, “A Satisfied Mind.”
The final segment belonged to Reba, who was delighted by the surprise appearance of Dolly Parton to introduce and induct her. Calling her one of her three closest friends in the music business along with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, she assured Reba that “we have a lot in common. We’ve both, over the years, had enough hair to stuff a mattress. They embraced onstage as an image of Reba’s plaque lit the backdrop screen, prompting Dolly to laugh, “Yours looks like mine and mine looks like you!”
Reba’s comments were deeply felt as she thanked her many friends and family. She lauded her fellow inductees and then, fighting back tears, she spoke for all who have worn the Medallion and would receive Country Music’s highest distinction in the future.
“What an institution, that we can honor the folks that have kept all this together. You know, there are lots of memories to come, and I just pray that the good Lord allows me to be a part of these memories in the future. Thank y’all very much, from the bottom of my heart, for being my friends, my helpers along the way, my singing partners. I couldn’t have done it without you – and by God, I wouldn’t have wanted to.”
All three inductees took robust choruses of the traditional closing number, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” joined by fellow members Bill Anderson, Harold Bradley, Jim Foglesong, Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers, Vince Gill, George Jones, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie McCoy, Gordon Stoker and Curtis Young of the Jordanaires and Jo-Walker Meador.