An all-star tribute for a trio of musical icons took place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater Sunday night as Ronnie Milsap, Mac Wiseman and Hank Cochran became the three newest inductees into the Hall of Fame’s esteemed ranks.
Malcolm “Mac” Wiseman was a polio sufferer as child who, in spite of that affliction, rose to fame in the world of bluegrass and also enjoyed success in country music with hits such as “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy” and “Your Best Friend and Me” (penned, coincidentally, by Cochran). A member of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, Wiseman also played with Bill Monroe. He was a founding member of the Country Music Association in 1958 and served as country recording director for Dot Records from 1955-1959.
In tribute to Wiseman, Jim Lauderdale performed the singer’s “Goin’ Like Wildfire,” while Charlie Daniels sang “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy” and Vince Gill offered “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered.”
“I started listening to him when I was a kid, and I think he’s one of the greatest singers we’ve ever had,” Lauderdale said. “I love the way he has bridged a gap with bluegrass and country music.”
“He has been a musical idol of mine since I learned my first three chords on the guitar. Tonight, Mac Wiseman, you the man,” Daniels told the invitation-only audience at the ceremony.
Cochran, a prolific songwriter who penned nearly 30 Top 10 hits in his career, was inducted posthumously (he passed away in 2010). Alison Krauss sang two of Cochran’s songs in his honor, “Make the World Go Away” and “Don’t Touch Me.” Gene Watson sang a Cochran song he had recorded, “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me,” which was a chart hit for Ray Price and a Number One record for Ronnie Milsap. “He’s one of the greatest writers that’s ever been,” Watson said, before Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare took the stage with Cochran’s widow, Suzi.
“This is one of the most exciting nights of my life,” said Suzi Cochran. “It’s bittersweet, but wonderful. He would have been very proud. I want to thank the CMA for making two of Hank’s dreams come true tonight. One is being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The other is having Alison Krauss sing one of his songs.”
For the tribute to pop-country crossover superstar Ronnie Milsap, the 1977 CMA Entertainer of the Year, whose 40 Number One hits include “Any Day Now,” “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “Stranger in My House,” R&B singer Sam Moore and Hall of Fame member Vince Gill performed a lighthearted version of “Lost in the Fifties Tonight,” Hunter Hayes delivered “There’s No Gettin’ Over Me,” and Martina McBride paid tribute with “(I’d Be a) Legend in My Time.”
Inducting the blind singer-pianist into the ranks of Hall of Fame membership, fellow member Brenda Lee said to Milsap, “Thank you for helping the world see a little more clearly what can be achieved when no obstacle is too great to be overcome in life.”
In his emotional acceptance speech, Milsap said, “Thanks to my family for being by me all the time, and making all this so much fun. I love you all. Thank you so much for having me in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a true honor.”