Brooks will be inducted in the “Modern Era Artist” category, while Smith will be inducted in the “Veterans Era Artist” category. Robbins will be inducted in the “Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980″ category, which is awarded every third year in a rotation with the “Non-Performer” and “Songwriter” categories. Brooks, Robbins, and Smith will increase membership in the coveted Country Music Hall of Fame from 115 to 118 inductees.
“There are great artists and talents, and then there are Connie, ‘Pig,’ and Garth,” said Steve Moore, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “Connie has been one of the most celebrated female voices in music for more than 45 years, setting a golden standard for the thousands of female vocalists who came after her. ‘Pig’ overcame adversity to become one of the most sought-after session musicians in the industry, contributing his considerable talents to classic songs that have been treasured by fans all over the world since the late ’50s. And, Garth led modern Country Music to unbelievable heights of commercial success and pop culture relevance after bursting onto the scene as part of the now-legendary ‘Class of 1989.’ These three artists are more than just performers…they are forces of nature who are deservedly entering the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
“I am astounded and honored to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Brooks. “At the same time, I can’t help but feel guilty going in when there are so many deserving artists that came before me who are yet to be inducted.”
“I just couldn’t believe it the other day when Steve Moore called and informed me that I had been chosen to become one of the new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Robbins. “All I could say was ‘thank you, thank you, thank you!’ Well, I have always considered myself lucky, and I guess my good luck has struck again. I am so honored to be named one of the new members.”
“I’ve had the privilege of participating in several Hall of Fame inductions,” said Smith. “They were all very special. But now to become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame myself is an honor for me and my family. So touching, it’s difficult to find the words to express my gratitude.”
Induction ceremonies for Brooks, Robbins, and Smith will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum later this year. Since 2007, the Museum’s Medallion Ceremony, an annual reunion of the Hall of Fame membership, has served as the official rite of induction for new members.
“The announcement of new inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame is always a cause for celebration,” said Kyle Young, Director, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “This year’s class features three artists who revered Country Music’s traditions but quickly forged their own paths, taking the genre to new places and, in turn, profoundly influencing the artists who have followed them. Each is a musical paradigm: Connie Smith, the epitome of a vocalist, has used her powerful voice to convey every nuance of love, loss, heartache, and faith on her canon of now-classic recordings; Hargus “Pig” Robbins, the consummate session pianist, has contributed note-perfect stylings to many of American music’s greatest recordings for more than three decades; and Garth Brooks, the prototype of a modern Country superstar, has taken this genre to new venues and new heights, engaging fans with his unparalleled mix of showmanship, theatricality and musical talent, all while never losing sight of Country Music’s roots.”
CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor.
The current categories and voting process are:
n Modern Era – An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 20 years after they first achieve national prominence. They will remain eligible for that category for the next 25 years. This replaced the former “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975 and the Present” category.
n Veterans Era – An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 45 years after they first achieve national prominence. This category combined the former “Career Achieved National Prominence between World War II and 1975″ category (which was voted on annually) and “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II” sub-category (which was voted on every third year in rotation) into one group.
n Rotating Categories – The third slot is a rotating category, with each group in the spotlight every third year. The three rotating categories are Songwriter, Recording and/or Touring Musician, and Non-Performer. The Songwriter category was created in 2009. Previously, songwriters were eligible in the Non-Performer category.
The Veterans Era and Modern Era categories have separate Nominating Committees, each made up of 12 industry leaders who serve three-year terms. The Modern Era Nominating Committee also oversees the Rotating Categories. Final nominations are then submitted to two separate Panels of Electors, made up of historians and industry professionals that have a historical perspective on Country Music. One Panel votes for both the Modern Era and the Rotating Categories, while a second Panel votes for the Veterans Era category. Both Panels are updated annually by the CMA Board of Directors Awards and Recognition Committee. Individuals can serve on both Panels. All panelists remain anonymous.
Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980
Hargus “Pig” Robbins – One of the most accomplished Nashville session pianist/keyboardists in history, Hargus Melvin “Pig” Robbins was born on Jan. 18, 1938 in Spring City, Tenn. He lost an eye at age two after an accident with his father’s knife, and became completely blind at age four. While studying at the Nashville School for the Blind, he learned to play classical music on piano beginning at age seven. Robbins also loved Country Music, especially the songs of Tex Ritter. As he grew more confident with his piano playing, he began to learn Country songs by ear after hearing them on the radio. As he got older, he was also influenced by Nashville session pianist Floyd Cramer and R&B singer/pianist Ray Charles.
It was during his time as a student that he was given the nickname “Pig.” One day, he snuck out the building through a fire escape to play. When he returned, his teacher told him he was “dirty as a pig,” and the name stayed with him.
After graduating from school, Robbins began performing as part of the Nashville club scene and making connections with fellow musicians. In 1959, he performed on his first major recording, “White Lightning,” which became George Jones’ first No. 1 hit.
Robbins quickly became part of what was known as the Nashville “A” Team, a group of A-list studio musicians who performed on hundreds of hits recorded during the Nashville Sound era. Among his fellow “A” Team members were future Country Music Hall of Fame members Harold Bradley, Charlie McCoy, and his hero, Cramer.
Through the late ’50s and ’60s, Robbins recorded with a number of legendary artists, including Bobby Bare, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Connie Smith, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, Jerry Jeff Walker, and more. Among the many classic songs on which he performed were Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces,” and Smith’s “Once A Day.”
He joined several of his fellow Nashville “A” Team members in performing on Bob Dylan’s legendary 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, which exposed his talents to artists in other genres. This led to future recordings throughout his career with folk and pop stars including Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, John Denver, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Mark Knopfler, Gordon Lightfoot, Country Joe McDonald, Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Loudon Wainwright III, Neil Young, and more.
Robbins’ hot streak lasted through the ’70s. He continued to work with many of the artists he performed with in the ’60s, but he also recorded with Chet Atkins, Billy “Crash” Craddock, Lacy J. Dalton, the Everly Brothers, Donna Fargo, Janie Fricke, Crystal Gayle, Vern Gosdin, Tom T. Hall, John Hartford, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, Melba Montgomery, Carl Perkins, Eddie Rabbitt, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Leon Russell, Carl Smith, Shel Silverstein, the Statler Brothers, Tanya Tucker, and many others. Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” are just a sample of the classic songs featuring Robbins’ musical skills.
In-between sessions with other artists, Robbins recorded eight solo albums in the ’60s and ’70s. His first album, A Bit of Country Piano, was released in 1963 from Time Records. After a few years, he released three albums on Chart Records: Play It Again, Hargus (1968), Hargus Robbins (1969), and One More Time (1969). Eight years later, he recorded three albums for Elektra Records. The first, Country Instrumentalist of the Year, earned him a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 1977. He followed up with two additional albums, A Pig in a Poke (1978), and Unbreakable Hearts (1979). Flying Fish Records released his live recording, Alive from Austin City Limits, also in 1979.
Robbins remained in demand throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and the beginnings of the 21st century, playing on recording sessions with artists including Bill Anderson, John Anderson, Junior Brown, Tracy Byrd, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chesnutt, David Allen Coe, Ty England, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, The Grascals, Merle Haggard, Levon Helm, Alan Jackson, Sammy Kershaw, kd lang, Chris LeDoux, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Locklin, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Aaron Neville, the Osmonds, Johnny Paycheck, Secret Sisters, T.G. Sheppard, George Strait, B.J. Thomas, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain, Rhonda Vincent, Steve Wariner, Gene Watson, Bryan White, Keith Whitley, and Chris Young, among others.
In 2008, he performed on the sessions for Christmas Duets, a project featuring Sara Evans, Amy Grant, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, Martina McBride, Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, LeAnn Rimes, Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, and Wynonna performing alongside vocals from Elvis Presley.
The talented Robbins won CMA Instrumentalist of the Year in 1976. Thirty-four years later, he won the CMA Musician of the Year Award in 2000. He and his fellow members of the Nashville “A” Team were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.
Veterans Era Artist
Connie Smith – Country Music Hall of Fame member Dolly Parton once said, “You know, there’s really only three female singers in the world: Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.”
The woman that Parton reveres as one of the best female singers in the world was born Constance June Meador on Aug. 14, 1941 in Elkhart, Ind. to Hobart and Wilma Lilly Meador. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother married Tom Clark. Together, the Clarks raised a blended family of 14 children. Music was everywhere in Smith’s childhood home. All of her family and step-family were musical. The Grand Ole Opry was a familiar sound on the radio every Saturday night. After a leg injury in a lawnmower accident at age 18, Smith bought an uncle’s guitar for seven dollars. Her mother taught her the first chords she learned while she was recuperating. In 1961 at the age of 19, she married her first husband, Jerry Smith and gave birth to her first son, Darren Justin Smith, in 1963.
In 1963, the 22-year old housewife performed a version of Jean Shepard’s “I Thought of You” in a talent contest at Frontier Ranch, near Columbus, Ohio and was overheard by singer/songwriter Bill Anderson. A few months later in January 1964, Smith and Anderson met again at a Hank Williams Tribute concert, where he invited her to come to Nashville to sing on Ernest Tubb’s “Midnight Jamboree.” She sang her first song in Nashville there on Mar. 28, 1964. In May 1964 she returned to Nashville to record a demo of songs for Anderson to pitch to other artists. Hubert Long, Anderson’s manager, played the demo for Chet Atkins, who offered Smith a deal with RCA Victor Records.
On July 16, 1964, Smith recorded four songs on her first day in the studio with producer Bob Ferguson (who would go on to produce all of her RCA Victor albums). Her recording of “Once a Day” on that session, which Anderson wrote especially for her, was so strong that RCA rushed it to radio as her first single two weeks later. “Once a Day” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and remained there for eight weeks, quickly becoming her signature song. It was the first debut single from a female Country artist to hit No. 1. The success of the song launched Smith into stardom. She was named Billboard’s Most Promising Female Country Artist in 1964, an award she also received in 1965. Smith also received three Grammy nominations in 1965 for Best New Country and Western Artist, Best Country and Western Vocal Performance, Female (“Once a Day”), and Best Country and Western Single (“Once a Day”).
Smith’s self-titled debut album was released in early 1965 and quickly went to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, where it spent seven weeks. Her second single from the album, “Then and Only Then,” another of the 33 Anderson-penned songs she’s recorded, hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, solidifying Smith as one of music’s rising stars. Demand for Smith’s music was so strong that even the B-side, “Tiny Blue Transistor Radio,” was played by radio stations and reached the Top-25 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart without ever being released as a single. Later in 1965, Smith fulfilled a childhood dream by joining the Grand Ole Opry.
Her second album, Cute ‘n’ Country, was also released in 1965, and quickly ascended to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Its lead single, “I Can’t Remember,” had already peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. A year later, she released the album Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and featured the singles “If I Talked to Him” and “Nobody But a Fool (Would Love You),” both reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Cashbox named her the Most Promising Female Country Vocalist in 1965.
Smith’s album Born to Sing reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in 1966. It featured the single “Ain’t Had No Lovin’,” one of 71 songs she has recorded written by the legendary songwriter Dallas Frazier, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country and Western Vocal Performance, Female in 1966. She was named Cashbox’s Most Programmed Female Vocalist, and won Record World’s Top Female Vocalist and Most Outstanding Female Country and Western Vocalist Awards that year as well.
Her next album, 1967’s Downtown Country, at RCA Victor’s request, featured a slight change in musical direction by adding orchestral instrumentation to the recording process. The project reached No. 5 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and contained the single “The Hurtin’s All Over,” penned by famed writer Harlan Howard, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. She received her first of three CMA Awards nominations in 1967 for Female Vocalist of the Year, and would later be nominated in that category again in 1970 and 1972.
Smith’s success led to appearances and performances in several Country Music-themed movies during the ’60s. Her first two movies were released in 1966: “The Las Vegas Hillbillys” (which starred Ferlin Husky and Jayne Mansfield) and “Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar” (where she was billed as “the Cinderella of Country Music”). She followed up with two more movie appearances in 1967: “The Road to Nashville” in which she co-starred with Marty Robbins and Doodles Weaver, and “Hell on Wheels.”
She continued having chart success throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s with hits including “Burning a Hole in My Mind,” “Baby’s Back Again,” “Run Away Little Tears,” “You and Your Sweet Love,” “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” “Louisiana Man,” “Where is My Castle,” “Just One Time,” “Just What I Am,” “If it Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave it Alone),” “Love is the Look You’re Looking For,” and her self-penned “I’ll Come Running,” among others. Her hit “Cincinnati, Ohio” reached No. 4 on the charts and later inspired the city of Cincinnati to declare a “Connie Smith Day” in June 1967. It also earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country and Western Solo Vocal Performance, Female in 1968. The following year she received another Grammy nomination in the same category for her performance of “Ribbon of Darkness.”
After her first marriage ended, she married her guitarist, Jack Watkins, and gave birth to a son, Kerry Watkins. The marriage was short-lived.
Smith recorded her first Gospel album, Connie Smith Sings Great Sacred Songs, in 1966, which resulted in a Grammy nomination for Best Sacred Recording. She became a born-again Christian in 1968 and began incorporating more Gospel music into her live act and recordings. Smith often referred to her 1971 album Come Along and Walk with Me as her favorite of her Gospel recordings. Her recording of “All the Praises” from her 1973 album Dream Painter received a 1974 Grammy nomination for Best Inspirational Performance.
Smith’s third marriage was to Marshall Haynes, during which she gave birth to three daughters, Jeanne, Julie, and Jody Haynes.
Smith recorded two duet albums with Nat Stuckey, one Country and the other Gospel. Their collaboration resulted in a cover of the pop hit “Young Love,” which reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and a Grammy nomination for Best Sacred Performance for “Whispering Hope” in 1971.
After severing ways with RCA Victor, Smith was signed by Clive Davis to Columbia Records in 1973, where she stayed until 1976. Among her Top 20 hits from this period are “Ain’t Love a Good Thing,” “You’ve Got Me Right Where You Want Me,” “I Never Knew (What That Song Meant Before),” and “I’ve Got My Baby on My Mind.” She also recorded one Gospel album each year while on Columbia, with her album Connie Smith Sings Hank Williams Gospel receiving a Grammy nomination in 1976 for Best Gospel Performance. She moved to Monument Records in 1977, but the label’s insistence that she record more pop-oriented songs did not result in chart or sales success except for one Top 10 outing, “Smooth Sailing,” and her cover of Andy Gibb’s “I Just Wanna Be Your Everything,” which peaked at No. 14 in 1978. In 1979, Smith decided to enter into semi-retirement so that she could focus on raising her five children.
Through the years, Smith still performed on the Grand Ole Opry and occasionally took on additional projects. She released a pair of singles on Epic Records in the mid-’80s, the first of which, “A Far Cry from You,” was written by Steve Earle and Jimbeau Hinson.
By the early ’90s, having raised her children and single again, Smith decided to concentrate more on her career. She signed a recording deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1996 and began working with fellow Country artist Marty Stuart as her producer. Stuart had been enamored with Smith since meeting her more than 25 years prior when he was twelve years old. She came to his hometown of Philadelphia, Miss. to sing at the Choctaw Indian Fair. On the way home from the concert that evening, Stuart declared to his mother that he “would marry Connie Smith some day.” While working together, the two fell in love and married in 1997. Her second self-titled album was released in 1998 to high critical praise, with nine of the 10 songs co-written by Smith and Stuart.
The two have since proven to be a formidable songwriting team with numerous celebrated titles to their credit such as “Farmer’s Blues,” recorded by Stuart and Merle Haggard, and 2011’s “I Run to You,” a Smith and Stuart duet which merited Smith her 11th Grammy nomination.
CMT ranked Smith as No. 9 on their list of “The Forty Greatest Women in Country Music” in 2002. A year later, Smith joined Barbara Fairchild and Sharon White to record the Gospel album Love Never Fails for Daywind Records (produced by Ricky Skaggs) and received four Dove Award nominations in 2004. When her husband launched “The Marty Stuart Show” television series on RFD-TV in 2008, a show celebrating traditional Country Music, Smith became a regular member of the cast. “The Marty Stuart Show” just finished its fourth season as the No. 1 rated show on the network.
Last year, Smith released her long-awaited 53rd album, Long Line of Heartaches, on Sugar Hill Records. Produced by Stuart, the album contains five songs written by the couple and was recorded at historic RCA Studio B in Nashville, returning Smith full circle to the very studio where she recorded the first sessions that launched her career. The project was lauded by music critics nationwide as one of the best Country albums of the year.
Long Line of Heartaches was debuted live at the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum during three events which Smith hosted. She was selected to be the first female Artist in Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Smith continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest female vocalists in Country Music history due to her emotional delivery, enviable vocal range, joy of singing, and her perfect use of diction and phrasing, which is further evidenced with the February 2012 release of her second Bear Family box set containing 151 of her RCA Victor recordings from 1968-1972. George Jones named her as his favorite female singer in his autobiography. But her reach went beyond Country to influence fans and artists in all genres. Elvis Presley was a known fan who owned many of her albums and had plans to record a version of her song “The Wonders You Perform” before he passed away. And, after being introduced to Smith, Keith Richards immediately brought his fellow Rolling Stone Ron Wood over to meet her, exclaiming “She’s the real deal!”
Modern Era Artist
Garth Brooks – The man who Billboard and the Nielsen Company recently named “the Best Selling Artist of the SoundScan Era” was born Troyal Garth Brooks on Feb. 7, 1962 in Tulsa and raised in Yukon, Okla., the youngest of six children. His father, Troyal Raymond Brooks, was a former marine who worked as a draftsman in the oil industry, and his mother was Colleen Carroll, a Country Music performer who had recorded for Capitol Records in the 1950s and performed on the Ozark Jubilee with Red Foley. Brooks participated in sports throughout his youth, and played on the high school football and baseball teams. But music was always around him, as he learned his first guitar chords from his father while his mother taught him to sing and reach for his dreams. His parents introduced him to the music of Merle Haggard, George Jones, and other classic Country artists, while his older siblings exposed him to the sounds of Boston, Janis Joplin, Journey, Kiss, Townes Van Zandt, and more rock and pop artists. He loved it all, but especially identified with singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. George Strait would also become Brooks’ significant influence after he heard Strait’s first single, “Unwound,” on the radio in 1981.
Thanks to his prowess with the javelin, Brooks earned a partial athletic scholarship to Oklahoma State University, where he majored in advertising. He began to play music seriously, first with friends in his dorm, and later as a performer in the clubs in Stillwater, Okla. where he also served as a bouncer. When he graduated from OSU in December 1984, he set his sights on pursuing his dreams in Nashville.
That first trip to Nashville lasted less than 24 hours, when he realized Music City wasn’t waiting for him with open arms. He continued to hone his craft by performing in Oklahoma clubs, and married his college sweetheart, Sandy Mahl, in 1986. A year later, he returned to Nashville with a plan, and began meeting songwriters and musicians. Soon, he met ASCAP’s Bob Doyle, who was so impressed with Brooks’ songwriting and performance talent that he eventually would quit his job and become business partners with Brooks as a manager and publisher. Doyle introduced Brooks to Joe Harris, a veteran-booking agent with Buddy Lee Attractions, who quickly became a strong supporter and broke company policy by booking concerts for Brooks even though he didn’t have a record deal. Doyle soon formed a partnership with publicist Pam Lewis to co-manage Brooks, which lasted until 1994 when Doyle/Lewis Management parted ways and Doyle continued as his sole manager.
Capitol Records A&R executive Lynn Shults heard Brooks sing “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (which he co-wrote with Kent Blazy) at the Bluebird Café and offered the young performer a record deal that evening. Allen Reynolds was hired to produce the first album, creating a collaboration so strong that Reynolds would go on to produce all of Brooks’ albums.
His first album, Garth Brooks, was released on April 12, 1989, and the debut single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” reached No. 8 on the Billboard Country Singles chart, followed by his first No. 1 hit, “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” “Not Counting You” reached No. 2, leading the way for his second No. 1 song, which would quickly become his signature, “The Dance.” The album would become the top selling Country album of the ’80s, and was eventually certified Diamond for sales of more than 10 million copies. Its success led to Brooks winning both the CMA Horizon Award and the CMA Music Video of the Year Award (for “The Dance”) in 1990.
His second album, No Fences, arrived in 1990. The first single, “Friends in Low Places,” was released soon after the success of “The Dance,” and this back-to-back combination of hit songs propelled Brooks into super-stardom. The album, which topped the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, would feature four No. 1 hits: “Friends in Low Places” (which won the 1991 CMA Single of the Year), “Unanswered Prayers,” “Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House),” and “The Thunder Rolls.” No Fences won the CMA Album of the Year Award in 1991, and has sold more than 17 million copies.
The album’s final single, “The Thunder Rolls,” spawned a controversial music video inspired by the song’s third verse (which Brooks performed in concert but did not record in the studio version) taking on domestic violence featuring Brooks as a cheating husband. The video was added to VH1’s playlist and was widely praised nationwide by shelters for domestic abuse victims for bringing attention to a serious problem, yet it was quickly banned by TNN and CMT. It won the CMA Music Video of the Year Award in 1991.
Brooks’ third album, Ropin’ the Wind, was released in 1991 and cemented his name in the history books when it became the first Country Music album ever to debut at No. 1 on both the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It would later win the 1992 CMA Album of the Year Award, earn Brooks his first Grammy Award (1991 Best Country Vocal Performance, Male), and sell more than 14 million copies. Brooks’ accomplishment propelled the entire Country Music industry to new sales heights in the ’90s, forever proving that Country Music could sell albums on par with pop, rock, and other genres. Forbes Magazine did a cover story on Brooks, with the headline proclaiming “Country Conquers Rock.” No. 1 singles from the album included “What She’s Doing Now,” “The River,” and a cover version of Billy Joel’s “Shameless.”
By this point, Brooks had become widely known by fans, industry, and critics as both a master showman and top concert draw. His live performances featured both wild, energetic theatrics (including Brooks running around the stage with his band, climbing rope ladders, and more) and quiet, tender performances, while always creating an intense, intimate connection between the artist and his audience. He was named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1991 (a feat he would repeat in 1992, 1997, and 1998, a record four wins that has only been matched by Kenny Chesney).
Brooks forever changed the way television viewers saw Country Music when “This is Garth Brooks” debuted on NBC in 1992. The hour-long concert special, filmed at Reunion Arena in Dallas, was the ninth most popular show of the week. The success of the special led to a sequel, “This is Garth Brooks Too” in 1994, which was filmed over the course of three sold-out shows at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. That special gave NBC its first time period win among adults 18-49 in nearly two years. In all, Brooks would deliver five highly-rated television specials for NBC in the ’90s.
Brooks released his most personal album, The Chase, in 1992. It also debuted at No. 1 on both the Billboard Top 200 and Billboard Top Country Albums charts and has sold more than nine million copies to date. The most-talked about single, written by Brooks and Stephanie Davis, was “We Shall Be Free,” a song promoting tolerance and brotherhood, inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles riots, that would later win a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award in 1993. The acclaimed music video featured cameo appearances from a range of celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Grant, Reba McEntire, Eddie Murphy, Martina Navratilova, General Colin Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and more offering messages of hope in-between news footage of problem situations from around the world. The video premiered before the 1993 Super Bowl where Brooks sang the National Anthem to a television audience of more than one billion viewers in 87 countries. That same year, Brooks released his first Christmas album, Beyond the Season, which has sold more than three million copies.
Rolling Stone featured Brooks on its cover in April 1993, a rare accomplishment for a Country artist. In the Fall, he released In Pieces, which also debuted at No. 1 on both the Billboard Top 200 and Billboard Top Country Albums chart. The album featured several of his best known hits, including “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up),” “American Honky Tonk Bar Association,” “Standing Outside the Fire,” and “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” and has sold more than eight million copies.
Brooks hit the world stage in 1994 when he undertook a world tour that visited Australia, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The frenzy surrounding his eight sold-out concerts in Dublin had Irish newspapers comparing his popularity to that of the Pope.
That same year, he released The Garth Brooks Collection, a compilation of 10 album tracks selected from his prior albums that was sold by McDonald’s in their first music promotion. The project, which benefited Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, sold more than three million copies. Later in 1994, he released The Hits, an 18-track greatest hits collection that sold more than 10 million copies and became both the best selling Country Music greatest hits album of all time and the best-selling greatest hits album from any genre in the ’90s.
In 1995, he released Fresh Horses, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums charts, and sold more than seven million copies. Brooks co-wrote eight of the 10 songs on the album, including “She’s Every Woman,” “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” and “It’s Midnight Cinderella,” while his cover of Aerosmith’s “The Fever” became a highlight of his live show. The Oklahama-native also honored both the heroes and victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in his music video for “The Change.”
In March 1996, Brooks began a three-year concert tour, performing 350 shows in 100 cities, selling more than 5.3 million tickets, and repeatedly breaking venue attendance records set by the likes of Neil Diamond, the Grateful Dead, Elton John, Elvis Presley, and more. Later that year, he filmed “Garth Brooks: Storytellers” for VH1, the first Country artist to be featured on the renowned singer/songwriter television series.
Brooks returned to Ireland in May 1997 and performed three shows in Dublin’s Croke Park. A record-breaking 120,000 tickets were sold for the shows, beating the previous record held by U2. The shows were filmed for a two-hour NBC television special that aired the next year, winning the night in ratings. On Aug. 7, 1997, “Garth – Live from Central Park” took over New York City, drawing the largest-ever concert crowd to the legendary park. The live broadcast on HBO was the network’s most-watched and highest-rated original program of the year, beating all broadcast competition in the time period as well as three of the four networks combined, and was the most watched special on cable television that year.
Also in 1997, Brooks released the album Sevens, which once again debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and Billboard Top Country Albums charts. The album, which sold more than 10 million copies, featured his first duet with longtime friend Trisha Yearwood, “In Another’s Eyes,” which would win the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
Brooks hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” recorded for the movie “Hope Floats” in 1998. He also released The Limited Series, a boxed set containing his first six studio albums, each with a bonus track. The project, a limited edition production of only two million copies, became the first boxed set to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart since Soundscan began in 1991, and the first and only boxed set to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Later in the year, once his three-year tour had ended, Brooks released Double Live, a two-CD set that has sold more than 21 million copies and became the best-selling live album in music history.
Brooks released his second Christmas album in 1999, Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas. The album sold more than one million copies to date and later served as the soundtrack for “Call Me Claus,” a 2001 television movie starring Whoopi Goldberg that Brooks co-executive produced through his Red Strokes Entertainment company. That same year, Brooks created his Teammates for Kids Foundation, partnering with celebrity athletes to raise money for children’s charities. He was inspired with the idea while participating in spring training with the San Diego Padres in 1998.
The year 2000 brought dramatic changes to Brooks’ life. In January, he announced that he was moving back to Oklahoma to focus on raising his three daughters, Taylor Mayne Pearl (born 1992), August Anna (born 1994), and Allie Colleen (born 1996). He officially retired from touring until after his youngest daughter graduated high school, but would still work on occasional projects. Later in the year, he and Sandy filed for divorce but remained active parenting partners for their daughters.
Brooks released Scarecrow in 2001, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and Billboard Top Country Album charts. The album sold more than five million copies, and featured a duet with his hero George Jones on “Beer Run (B Double E Double Are You In?).” To promote the album, Brooks did a series of three live concert television specials in Nov. for CBS known as “Garth Brooks: Coast to Coast Live.” This was the last album Brooks would record for Capitol Records. Due to his renegotiated contract with Capitol in the mid-’90s, Brooks had full ownership of his recordings – a rare accomplishment for any performer and even more rare for a Country artist. When he left Capitol, he took his masters with him.
In 2005, Brooks became the first artist to partner exclusively with Wal-Mart when he released The Lost Sessions. The project featured previously unreleased material recorded during 1995-2000, as well as a new song, “Good Ride Cowboy,” that paid tribute to Brooks’ hero and friend, Chris LeDoux, who had recently passed away. Later that year, Brooks performed the song live from Times Square as part of the CMA Awards’ historic broadcast from New York City. The album, which sold more than two million copies, was also part of a second boxed set that Brooks released through Wal-Mart that included Sevens, Scarecrow, and a new DVD featuring concert footage, interviews, and more. The Lost Sessions also featured “Love Will Always Win,” a duet with Yearwood, whom Brooks married in a quiet ceremony in Oklahoma later that year.
Two years later in 2007, Brooks released The Ultimate Hits on Big Machine Records, a 34-song, two-CD package that also included a DVD containing his music videos. The first single, “More Than a Memory,” made history by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. That year, he also performed nine sold-out shows in the new Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. All 159,779 tickets were sold in 1 hour and 58 minutes, which tied his personal record of selling the highest number of tickets in any North American city. The final night’s concert was broadcast to more than 300 movie theaters across the nation.
In January of 2008, Brooks performed five sold-out shows during only two days at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to benefit the Southern California 2008 Fire Intervention Relief Effort (F.I.R.E.), which provided aid to victims and first responders of the Los Angeles and San Diego wildfires as well as financial assistance to California firefighting departments and organizations. All 83,000 tickets were sold in less than an hour. CBS broadcast one hour of the first concert live as “Garth Brooks: Live in LA!”
President-elect Barack Obama requested Brooks perform at his Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in January 2009. More than 300,000 attendees lined the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument while Brooks performed. Later that year, Brooks began performing a limited series of solo acoustic shows at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas, which he still continues to do for a few weeks each year.
In 2010, Brooks performed nine sold-out shows in six days in front of more than 145,000 fans at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to raise funds for The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to allocate to victims of the devastating floods that ravaged Middle Tennessee earlier in the year. The concerts raised $5 million dollars while also setting a new record in Tennessee for ticket sales by a single performer, nearly doubling the previous record set by Michael Jackson who had sold 72,000 tickets for a stadium show in Knoxville. ABC’s “World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer” named him “Person of the Week” for his efforts during the flood relief concerts.
To date, Brooks has sold more than 128 million albums, and the RIAA declared him the “Male Solo Artist of the 20th Century.” He has won 11 CMA Awards, 17 American Music Awards (including being named “Artist of the Decade for the ’90s”), two Grammy Awards, 12 People’s Choice Awards, and 5 World Music Awards, among many other honors. ASCAP has presented him with several of their most prestigious honors, including the Voice of Music Award (presented to artists whose music gives voice to the spirit of a generation), Founders Award (given to songwriters and composers who have made pioneering contributions to music by inspiring and influencing their fellow music creators), and the Golden Note Award (for his outstanding contributions to American music as a performer and songwriter). He is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, was the first Country Music artist to host “Saturday Night Live,” and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011.
SOURCE: Country Music Association
Garth Brooks Photo Courtesy of Garth Brooks / Provided by Country Music Association
Connie Smith Photo courtesy of Connie Smith / Provided by Country Music Association
Hargus “Pig” Robbins Photo Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame