NASHVILLE, Tenn. – October 23, 2017 – Three distinctive artists who shared a commitment to a creative path that separated them from their peers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during a star-studded, open-hearted Medallion Ceremony on October 22, 2017, in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater.
Traditional country stalwart Alan Jackson, multi-talented Jerry Reed and songwriter Don Schlitz were feted with heartfelt testimonials, emotion-spiked speeches and memorable performances of the classic country material that these new Hall of Fame members brought to the world. The artists paying tribute crossed generations, backgrounds and styles, underscoring the universal nature of the art created by the men being inducted.
“This year’s class is special,” said Sarah Trahern, chief executive officer of the Country Music Association, the organization that elects the Hall of Fame members. “Each new member has written songs that have become part of our American musical history. Each new member is a master at creating timeless music that is often deceptively simple and still deeply meaningful.”
Produced by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Medallion Ceremony honors the inductees by highlighting their life stories, their important turning points, and the breakthrough artistic achievements that elevated their careers. The inductees are celebrated with speeches, live musical tributes and original video biographies, created by the museum staff using old and often rare recorded performances, past televised interviews and historic photos culled from materials collected, stored and digitized in the museum’s Frist Library and Archives. The ceremony conveys the unique talents, personalities and backgrounds of each Hall of Fame inductee and highlights why they deserve this prestigious honor.
“These men came to Nashville with no earthly idea of the mark that they would make,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. With hard work, they honed their talents to become masters of their chosen art. That mastery led to their induction into the Hall of Fame, country music’s highest honor.”
Musical tributes, performed by artists who aren’t revealed ahead of time to the audience or the inductees, are a highlight of the Medallion Ceremony. Reed’s first musical tribute featured three guitarists given the title “certified guitar player” by Chet Atkins, who created the designation to honor guitarists he admired. Of the six pickers named “C.G.P.”—including Reed, Paul Yandell, and Atkins himself—only three are living. Those certifiably outstanding guitarists—Tommy Emmanuel, John Knowles and Steve Wariner—showed their skills on a famously challenging Reed instrumental, “The Claw,” its title alluding to Reed’s unusual finger-picking style.
Grammy-winning performer and songwriter Ray Stevens met Reed when both were fledgling artists in Atlanta in the 1950s. Stevens celebrated his longtime friend’s wit and personality by performing “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.”
Jamey Johnson is such a big fan of Reed’s that one of his tour buses is wrapped with a graphic of the famous eighteen-wheeler Reed drove as the character Snowman in the film Smokey and the Bandit. Johnson performed “East Bound and Down,” a hit from the Bandit soundtrack.
In the Medallion Ceremony, Hall of Fame members conduct the actual rite of induction of new members, as a way of welcoming them to the elite group. Reed’s family asked that Bobby Bare do the honors.
The musical tributes for Schlitz began with an award-winning co-writer, Mary Chapin Carpenter. Together, Carpenter and Schlitz wrote her hits “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” “I Take My Chances” and “I Feel Lucky.” For this occasion, Carpenter performed another Schlitz classic, “When You Say Nothing at All,” a hit for Keith Whitley in 1988 and Alison Krauss & Union Station in 2002.
Next up, several of Schlitz’s songwriting colleagues honored a Nashville tradition he helped found: the songwriters-in-the-round performances at the Bluebird Cafe. Fred Knobloch and Thom Schuyler were part of the original rounds with Schlitz. They were joined by Jelly Roll Johnson, a harmonica specialist and a Bluebird veteran, and Charlie Worsham, a newcomer whose talent led to a friendship with Schlitz.
The four artists performed “Oscar the Angel,” a song about a homeless man. Schlitz and Worsham, are regular performers at Clancey’s Crossroads Cafe, a musical outreach program at Nashville’s Room in the Inn, which provides beds and rooms for the homeless. Schlitz’s musical tributes ended with a surprise: pop star (and Los Angeles resident) Aloe Blacc and Hall of Fame member Vince Gill found a fresh way to interpret “The Gambler,” with Blacc taking the parts of the younger man and Gill assuming the role of the older gentleman.
Gill then took the podium for Schlitz’s official induction. He and Schlitz have been friends for 35 years, introduced by a business manager the two shared.
Jackson’s musical tribute began with Lee Ann Womack, who performed “Here in the Real World,” his first Top Ten hit, from 1990. Alison Krauss followed, offering a delicately powerful version of Jackson’s “Someday,” his third #1 hit, from 1991. Krauss was accompanied by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.
To end Jackson’s tribute, his friend and one-time duet partner, George Strait, performed “Remember When,” a #1 hit from 2003, and a romantic tribute to Jackson’s wife, Denise. For his formal induction, Jackson had asked that Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn do the honors. “When he requested that she present him his medallion on this night, he did so knowing that she was working to recover from a debilitating stroke,” Young said. “When Loretta learned of the request, she offered up an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ though we all wondered if she would indeed be able to make it here to place a medallion around the neck of a tall troubadour from Newnan, Georgia.”
Young then introduced Lynn, to a thunderous ovation. Lynn walked to the podium with the assistance of Strait and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell.
“Alan, I love you,” Lynn started. “The first time I ever met Alan, he looked like a scared little boy. He was backstage going through his songs. And I remember looking at him and saying, ‘You’re going to be one of the greatest singers in country music.’ He hasn’t let me down.”
Lynn, who has been recuperating from a stroke since May, has appeared only once in public, briefly walking onstage at a music festival on her property in Hurricane Mills. “This is the first time I’ve been out of the house,” she said. “You’re the only thing that would’ve brought me here.”
At first, Lynn started into a conventional statement about her love for Jackson’s music and how he deserves such an accolade. But mid-sentence, she stopped and cut to the chase: “Hey, you should be here.”
When Jackson got to the podium, after several hugs and private words from Lynn, he said, “Loretta Lynn said I should be here. That’s all I needed to hear. Now it’s official.” Considered country music’s most prestigious event, the Medallion Ceremony represents the official induction of new Country Music Hall of Fame members.
The audience at the private celebration was packed with Hall of Fame members, who welcomed the new inductees to their exclusive club. Hall of Famers in attendance were Bill Anderson; Bobby Bare; Bobby Braddock; Harold Bradley; Charlie Daniels; Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers; Fred Foster; Vince Gill; Kris Kristofferson; Loretta Lynn; Charlie McCoy; Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys; Randy Owen of Alabama; Connie Smith; George Strait; and Randy Travis.
The audience observed a moment of silence in memory of Hall of Fame members lost in 2017: Glen Campbell, Jo Walker-Meador and Don Williams.
The evening ended, as always, with a performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” this year led by Hall of Fame member Connie Smith, with help from Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn and George Strait.