NASHVILLE After letting the news sink in for three months that they were heading to the Country Music Hall of Fame, new members showed great emotion about receiving the highest honor in country music during Thursday night's formal induction ceremony.
Uniformly poignant, the acceptance speeches ranged in tone and length, from Phil Everly's brief and focused remarks to Sam Phillips' 20-minute, stream-of-consciousness oration.
Singer/songwriter Bill Anderson became overwhelmed and visibly moved to tears when he was presented his Hall of Fame award by the evening's host, Marty Stuart. "For somebody who has spent the better part of his life trying to put words together," Anderson said, "I really had a hard time thinking of the words I wanted to say tonight. I guess that is because there really aren't any words to describe what's in my heart.
"A long time before I was a country music songwriter or a country music performer, I was a country music fan," he continued. "I stood upstairs in that rotunda tonight, and I saw all those plaques hanging on the wall. Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff my childhood heroes. [These are] people that I used to spend my allowance on to buy their records, never dreaming that someday my plaque would be up there next to theirs."
Charlie Louvin, of the Louvin Brothers, echoed the sentiment. "I only dreamed that my life would turn out as it has," he said. "I'm thankful that I still live my early dreams. Tonight is one of those early dreams."
The four-hour, black-tie dinner and ceremony was held at the new Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Nearly 350 guests gathered in the museum's conservatory, what Stuart called "country music's living room," to honor the dozen new members.
An unprecedented number of inductees entered the Hall of Fame this year, named on the occasion of the opening of the new museum in May.
Phillips, who lives in Memphis, was immediately impressed by the museum's grand exterior when he saw it from his nearby hotel. However, he admitted to wondering if the $37 million facility would feel sterile inside. He says his doubts disappeared when he walked in the door. "This place can be the warmest, the sweetest, the most magnificent essence of soul," the Sun Records founder said in his passionate speech.
"This place is never going to be without spirit," Phillips continued, before offering a word of caution. "If it does, tear the damn thing down ... For God's sake, keep the warmth, the feel."
Kicking off the ceremony, Raul Malo of the Mavericks led a musical tribute to the dozen honorees backed by guitarist Brent Mason and other top studio musicians. The medley included Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never," the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away From Me," Homer & Jethro's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," the Louvin Brothers' "When I Stop Dreaming," the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me," Anderson's "Still," Waylon Jennings' "Rainy Day Woman" and Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You."
Vocal quartet the Jordanaires, who backed Elvis Presley and countless other acts in the studio, were honored in song with the gospel classic "Working on a Building."
Malo paid tribute to executives Phillips, Ken Nelson and the late Don Law with songs they each originally produced. Included were Presley's "Trying to Get to You," which Phillips recorded for Sun; Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry," which Law cut for Columbia; and Ferlin Husky's "Gone," which Nelson supervised for Capitol.
"I am both humbled and proud to be the recipient of this prestigious award," Nelson said, "but it must be shared with the artists, the musicians, the songwriters and the recording engineers. ... These are the people that made this award possible and on their behalf I accept this great honor."
Upon receiving their awards, Jordanaires members Ray Walker and Gordon Stoker recognized Nelson for the important role he played in their careers. Nelson signed the vocal group to its first recording contract in 1953. Later, he advised the quartet to stay in the background, telling them stars come and go, but the industry will always need backup singers.
Walker believes it was sound advice. "We're indebted to those superstars who dared to step out and take the slings and the arrows and the brunt of being in the public all the time," he said. "We're glad that we have had a little part in your life, but we're so happy that you are out there and we're not."
Brief video bios highlighting career achievements preceded each induction. The video tributes were voiced by celebrities such as John Anderson (the Delmore Brothers), Emmylou Harris (the Louvin Brothers), Mark Knopfler (the Everly Brothers), Hall of Famer Brenda Lee (the Jordanaires) and others.
Family members of the posthumous inductees including Pierce, Law, the Delmore Brothers, Homer & Jethro, Ira Louvin and Hoyt Hawkins and Neal Matthews, Jr. (of the Jordanaires) were present to honor their loved ones but did not make speeches. Jennings, Gibson and Don Everly (of the Everly Brothers) did not attend.
Phil Everly, the last to be ceremoniously inducted, kept his remarks short and sweet. "I want to thank my father for teaching us," he said. "I want to thank my mother for dreaming us. I want to thank Boudleaux and Felice [Bryant] for writing us. I want to thank Chet [Atkins] for guiding us. And I want to thank you all for honoring us."
For years, Hall of Fame gala events have often ended by participants singing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." In light of our recent national crisis, Stuart, Malo and Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell concluded Thursday's banquet by leading a sing-along of "America the Beautiful."