Ronnie Milsap, Mac Wiseman and the late Hank Cochran will receive country music’s highest honor later this year: induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The 2014 honorees were announced Tuesday at a press conference inside the downtown Nashville landmark’s rotunda, which houses the bronze plaques of its 121 members.
Milsap will be inducted in the Hall’s Modern Era category, which is given to an artist who achieved national prominence more than 20 years ago. The 71-year-old singer of such classics as “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “It Was Almost Like a Song” and “Stranger in My House” has 40 Number One singles to his name, along with six Grammy awards and eight Country Music Association (CMA) awards, among a laundry list of other accolades. Blind since birth, the North Carolina native began studying classical music when he was just 7 years old and formed a rock band as a teenager. After signing with RCA Records in 1973, the piano prodigy’s first country single, “I Hate You,” landed in the Top 10 later that same year. For the next two decades, a string of hits – many of which crossed over to the pop world – made him one of the most popular, recognizable voices of any genre.
“I’ve wanted to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame for as long as I can remember,” Milsap told a room full of reporters and industry executives at the press conference. “I love making records. So we keep doing these things year after year after year, and to finally be recognized, I thank you. I’m so grateful and so honored, and I want to do things continually to make you proud of the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
Wiseman will be inducted into the Veteran Era category, which is given to an artist who achieved national prominence more than 45 years ago. Nicknamed “The Voice With a Heart,” the Virginia native credited his musical beginnings to contracting polio at 6 months old. His disabilities allowed him to sit out from the field work other children had to do, and instead listen to old records all day. After a short stint as a radio DJ, Wiseman started his performing career in Molly O’Day’s band playing classic country music, but found his true niche in bluegrass after joining Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as a member of the legendary Foggy Mountain Boys. Wiseman’s first solo single, “Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,” was released in 1951 and catapulted him to solo stardom. His résumé also includes running the country division of Dot Records and co-founding the CMA.
“I have always been proud of my role in making country music popular,” said the wheelchair-bound, yet spry music mogul, who will turn 89 next month. “Being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is the icing on the cake and certainly a highlight of my career.”
Cochran’s induction into the Songwriter Era category is more than five decades in the making. He penned his first big hit, “Make the World Go Away,” in 1960, which was recorded that year by both Eddy Arnold and Ray Price. Two career-defining songs for Patsy Cline followed: “I Fall to Pieces” (co-written with Harlan Howard) and “She’s Got You.” His extensive catalog, which has generated more than 36 million performances, includes George Strait’s “The Chair” and “Ocean Front Property,” along with songs cut by an eclectic list of artists including Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Dean Martin and Linda Rondstadt. During his illustrious tenure with Pamper Music, Cochran helped Willie Nelson go from unheard songwriter to one of the most beloved voices in country music history. And his own voice is heard on several critically acclaimed, chart-topping solo albums. He passed away in 2010 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected by an anonymous panel coordinated by the CMA, which created the accolade to recognize both artistic and business contributions to country music. In 1961, Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams became the Hall’s first inductees. The 2014 honorees will be officially inducted during a special Medallion Ceremony in the building’s CMA theater later this year.