The Country Music Hall of Fame added three new names to its roster of 130 inductees, with new member Randy Travis providing the poignant highpoint of an emotional two-and-a-half hour ceremony. Travis, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013, rendering him unable to speak, was accompanied by his wife, Mary, who delivered the country legend’s acceptance speech for him. Although he was assisted to the podium by Brad Paisley and fellow Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks, who did the formal induction, Travis demonstrated that he has regained some of his speech by singing a portion of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” leaving some audience members in stunned silence and others tearfully singing along.
Travis’s role as one of the saviors of traditional country music in the mid-Eighties was acknowledged by performances from Brooks, Paisley and Alan Jackson, all of whom were influenced by the singer’s deeper-than-the-holler baritone voice.
Travis’s fellow inductees celebrated during the invitation-only ceremony were producer-songwriter Fred Foster and musician Charlie Daniels. Foster and the audience were treated to a rare performance of her first hit, “Dumb Blonde,” by Dolly Parton, who was signed to Foster’s Monument Records before her long tenure and eventual superstardom with the RCA label. “If anybody deserves this, you do,” Parton told Foster. “You really gave me a shot and you were a gentleman when Porter Wagoner stole me away.”
Another of Foster’s discoveries, Kris Kristofferson, delivered his iconic “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was co-written with Foster and inspired by a woman named Bobby McKee, who was songwriter Boudleaux Bryant’s secretary. The real-life inspiration for the song was among the guests in attendance. Grammy winner Brandy Clark was also on hand to perform “Blue Bayou,” a huge hit for both Monument Records’ artist Roy Orbison and later for Linda Ronstadt. Foster was inducted by one of the young artists he mentored and encouraged during his career: Hall of Famer Vince Gill.
All of the Hall of Fame inductees shared North Carolina as their birthplace, although multifaceted performer Charlie Daniels has become closely associated with Tennessee. Daniels’ career began when he penned the 1964 hit “It Hurts Me,” by Elvis Presley, for which he received his first royalty check in the amount of five dollars. He followed by becoming one of Music City’s most in-demand session players, playing guitar and other instruments on now-classic recordings by Bob Dylan and many others. Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee was chosen by Daniels to induct him and was moved to tears by the honor Daniels entrusted to her. Trisha Yearwood performed an intense and soulful version of “It Hurts Me” in tribute to Daniels, and Jamey Johnson, joking that he started singing it while in the Marines when long hair was not allowed, sang the 1980 hit “Long Haired Country Boy,” which was originally included on Daniels’ 1974 breakthrough LP, Fire on the Mountain. In another of the highlights of the evening, Trace Adkins was accompanied by fiddle player Andrea Zonn for a fiery take on the smash crossover hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
In a largely extemporaneous, heartfelt speech, Lee, who also has membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, told Daniels, “We both know how this life could have gone for us, don’t we Charlie? We know that the odds of coming where we came from and being here in this room tonight. . . if there’s a machine that could calculate those odds, I don’t know of one.” Lee and Daniels’ long friendship is such, she told the audience, that the musician named one of his horses after her (“a teeny, tiny horse,” she joked). Daniels said of his Hall of Fame-enshrined inspirations, including Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, “Many of the faces on the wall laid the foundation for all of us.” But it was Brooks, a Hall of Fame member since 2012, who shared the sentiment of many who had waited several years for Travis to join the Hall’s esteemed ranks.
“Today the world is spinning right,” Brooks said before the formal induction of the “Forever and Ever, Amen,” singer. “Never will you have to say, ‘Randy Travis isn’t in the Hall of Fame’ ever again. It’s long overdue and well-deserved. . . I would not be in this town if it weren’t for Randy Travis.” He also posed a question to the audience, comprised mainly of industry insiders: “Tell me some other artist in some other genre ever in the history of mankind who has taken a format, turned it around back to where it was coming from, and made it bigger than it was. It’s never happened. It will never happen again.”