Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, made a round of calls Monday to inform several country music veterans or their families that they'd been tapped for membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"I've changed my name from 'Whisperin' Bill' to 'Grinnin' Bill,'" said singer/songwriter Bill Anderson, who got the word at his office.
Benson left a message for Anderson, who was on another line, asking that he call back. Anderson worried that Benson might ask him to serve on a CMA committee. "I sat there for about 30 minutes and didn't call him back," Anderson said with a laugh, "because I was trying to come up with a reason I couldn't be on the Fan Fair committee."
Anderson, 63, said the past several days with the deaths of Chet Atkins and fellow Opry member Johnny Russell and now his election to the hall of fame have been an emotional roller coaster. "That backstage show I had to do Saturday night (on cable channel TNN) was one of the hardest half-hours I've ever had to live through. I was so low last week. It's the other end of the spectrum this week."
When Anderson is formally inducted at a Nashville dinner on October 4, he will be part of the largest class named to the hall since its founding in 1961. In honor of the opening of the new hall of fame and museum downtown, Anderson and fellow 2001 inductee Sam Phillips will be joined by a special 10-member class elected from a list of candidates who had been nominated three times or more before.
Named to the hall in the special class were: the Delmore Brothers, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Homer & Jethro, Waylon Jennings, the Jordanaires, Don Law, the Louvin Brothers, Ken Nelson and Webb Pierce.
Benson reached Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires at his condo in Daytona Beach, Florida. The quartet's lineup has changed a number of times since the group's 1948 founding in Springfield, Missouri. Stoker, Ray Walker and deceased members Neal Matthews and Hoyt Hawkins the unit that sang on one to four recording sessions a day for 25 years will be the lineup that enters the hall.
Still active as a performing and recording group, Stoker and his colleagues are resting during July in preparation for the busy month of August, which will bring the 24th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the Jordanaires' most famous client.
"I regret that it's happened this late, but it's one of those things," Stoker, 76, said. "I'm thankful about it. I'm really disappointed that Neal Matthews, who worked so hard with me to promote country music and push country music, didn't get to see this day. Neal and I especially Neal did the arrangements of so many country stars' hits. I just wish it could have happened while he was alive."
Matthews died in April 2000. Hawkins passed away in 1982. Duane West sang with the group in recent years but has retired for health reasons. The current lineup includes Louis Nunley and Curtis Young.
The Jordanaires are the first of the A-Team session regulars to be honored with membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Stoker believes many of his musical colleagues, including players Bob Moore, Harold Bradley, Floyd Cramer, Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Buddy Harman and Ray Edenton, deserve recognition too.
"They did just like we did one to four sessions a day for 25 years in Nashville," Stoker said. "That's amazing, and absolutely millions of records were sold and worlds of hits came out of Nashville."
Like the Jordanaires, Anderson continues to work regularly. He appeared Tuesday night at the Grand Ole Opry, where he remains a mainstay. Congratulatory calls poured in at the news of his election to the hall of fame.
In addition to the dinner on October 4, new inductees will be recognized during the 35th annual CMA Awards on November 7, airing on CBS. The class of 12 new members brings the Hall of Fame total to 86.
"I never got in this business to win awards or accolades or whatever," Anderson said. "I'm happy for the ones that have come, but I got in this business 'cause I loved the music. That's basically it. All the other stuff's just icing on the cake."