It’s that time of year again to consider who might be in the running for the precious few spots as the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A secret committee commissioned by the CMA is going over their final ballots and whittling down the names to the few who will make it into one of country music’s most hallowed institutions.
Though usually the names of the eventual inductees are revealed early spring in a press conference held in the Hall of Fame rotunda in Nashville, COVID-19 has upset that pattern to some extent. The announcement of 2020’s inductees was delayed until August 12th, and 2021’s announcement didn’t come until August 16th. We’ll just have to see if August becomes the more permanent month to make the announcement, or if they move back to the spring once again.
Unlike other Halls of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame tries to keep the institution distinguished by letting only a few names in each year. This way a bad name never slips through the process, hypothetically. This has also caused a glut of good names being left out in recent years, stirring controversy in itself, especially when it comes to Veterans Era inductees. But it also keeps the Hall of Fame honor exclusive and distinguished.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association (CMA). Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era – Eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence.” 2) Veterans Era – Eligible for induction 40 years after they first achieve “national prominence.” 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 – Rotates every 3 years. If there is a tie in voting in any category, two names can be selected, as we saw in 2021.
With musicians Eddie Bayers (drummer) and Pete Drake (steel guitar) selected in 2021, and a songwriter, Dean Dillon, selected in 2020, it would be a “non performer” to be selected in 2022. Though this could be a DJ, a producer, an announcer, a journalist, or someone else who helped significantly in spreading the word about country music, more often than not these slots are filled with music executives most people in the public have never heard of.
Another important rule to note is that no candidate is eligible for the Hall of Fame a year after they pass away. This is to avoid sympathy votes in the aftermath of an artist dying, so check the 2021 In Memoriam List for those who would be ineligible. In recent years, this has accelerated artists being inducted before they die to avoid the one year penalty, and to honor them while they’re still living.
Potential Modern Era Inductees
One big note for the Modern Era category in 2022 is that with the transition between “Modern” and “Veteran” being the 40 year mark, multiple names we thought of as Modern Era candidates in previous years should now be considered Veterans Era candidates, specifically Tanya Tucker, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Rosanne Cash, and others. Sometimes the delineation point between the two categories can seem somewhat arbitrary, depending on one’s definition of when an artist hit “national prominence.”
• Last Year’s Modern Era Inductee: The Judds
• Saving Country Music Prediction: Trisha Yearwood, Keith Whitley, or Martina McBride
• Saving Country Music’s Picks: Dwight Yoakam, Keith Whitley, Trisha Yearwood
– – – – – – – – – –
Dwight Yoakam: You’d think with 25 million records sold, Dwight Yoakam should definitely be considered for Hall of Fame distinction. But being based in California as opposed to Nashville may put him a bit out of the purview of voters—an always important factor. Yoakam’s greatest contribution beyond the gaudy sales numbers comes in the influence he had in country music in his time, and that he still wields today over generations of performers. Dwight Yoakam made country music cool to millions, just like Hall of Famer Buck Owens and other Bakersfield legends did in their time. Dwight’s also not showing any signs of slowing down, and has earned additional stripes as a country music ambassador through his acting career. With his own SiriusXM station where he’s hanging out with Post Malone, it feels like Yoakam has finally graduated from a future hopeful for the Hall of Fame to a bona fide front runner, though it still may take a few years for him to get in.
Trisha Yearwood: It’s the timeless songs, and how Yearwood was one of the most important women throughout the 90’s that makes her an eligible candidate for the Hall of Fame. Her debut single “She’s In Love with the Boy,” is a bonafide country music standard, and one of five #1’s she enjoyed. Her 1991 self-titled album became the first debut female country album to sell one million copies, and has since gone double platinum. She followed that up with “Walkaway Joe,” and a Platinum sophomore album. Trisha’s also had five #2 songs, including the country version of “How Do I Live,” and a total 18 Top 10 hits in the 90’s.
Trisha Yearwood definitely has the Hall of Fame numbers, similar to the 80’s success of last year’s Modern Era inductees, The Judds. It probably also doesn’t hurt that she’s married to a big voice in the Hall of Fame voting room and an inductee himself, Garth Brooks.
Keith Whitley: Keith Whitley started in country music as a member of Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass band, and later was an important member in JD Crowe’s The New South. In 1988, Whitley had two #1 singles “When You Say Nothing At All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” off the album Don’t Close Your Eyes, and was expected to become a superstar in country music in the coming years. However, on May 9th, 1989, Keith Whitley died of what was ruled as alcohol poisoning, and never got to reap the rewards of the career he’d worked to build. He was 33-years-old. Garth Brooks specifically named Whitley as someone he believed should have been inducted before him. But the question many bring up with with Whitley and the Hall of Fame is if he did enough before his death to be deemed Hall of Fame worthy, though this question rarely addresses Whitley’s bluegrass career before he became a solo performer, or the influence Whitley continues to have on country music today.
To get into the Hall of Fame, you don’t just need a good resume, you need a good, dedicated push and a promotional campaign that can get the attention of the right people on the committee and make a strong case for the induction. That is what fans and family of Keith Whitley have put together, including his widow Lorrie Morgan, and his son Jesse Keith Whitley.
Martina McBride – With five #1 singles, and twenty Top 20 singles, Martina McBride has comparable numbers to other recent Modern Era inductees and current candidates, even if they were earned while being more of a country pop crossover star as opposed to more loyal to the country genre. Nonetheless, country was loyal to Martina McBride, bestwoing her four CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards, and nominating her for 14 Grammys to go with her 14 million records sold. Similar to Trisha Yearwood, McBride helped define 90’s country, but didn’t push it completely into the pop realm like Shania Twain. It wasn’t just the numbers when it comes to Martina. It was the voice, and the emotion it carried that makes Martina McBride a viable Hall of Fame candidate, and one rumored to be heavily considered over the last few years.
Clint Black – If it wasn’t for his career’s disappearing act, his name would be a no brainier for the Hall of Fame. Instead, Clint Black’s impact is commonly overlooked, and unfairly so. Nobody was more successful in country music in the 90’s decade than Clint Black, save for Garth Brooks. A whopping twenty-two #1 singles including his first four consecutively, and a total of 37 Top 10 hits puts Clint Black in an elite class in regards to numbers. Clint Black also kept it (mostly) country, and was always seen as a good guy in the industry.
When Clint Black’s wife Lisa Hartman had their first child in May of 2001, he decided to take three years off to enjoy his young family. Aside from “Spend My Time” in 2003 that peaked at #16, the rest of Clint’s singles all stayed outside the Top 40 after the hiatus. “It ended up not being a smart career move, but it was a real smart dad move. … I wouldn’t go back and try to do anything for my career in exchange for that,” Black says. It shouldn’t cost him a Hall of Fame induction either.
Travis Tritt – Since two of his brethren from the “Class of ’89” are in (Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson), as well as his “No Hat” buddy in Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt will start to be much more heavily considered in the next few years. There’s probably still a few names ahead of him, and since his commercial career cooled off omewhat quickly—and he hasn’t kept completely free of controversy by speaking his mind on the ills of the industry (and politics)—his induction ceremony may still be some years away, but it’s inching closer. And why not consider Tritt, with two Grammys, four CMAs, five #1 singles, and 19 Top 10’s. Travis Tritt helped put the drive into country, both sonically and commercially. Also, with a new Dave Cobb-produced album released last year—Tritt’s first original album in 14 years—it makes for a good reminder he’s still out there doing his thing.
Kenny Chesney – As weird as it may seem, Kenny Chesney was officially eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2015. He released his first major label album with BNA in 1995, and had two Top 10 singles, “Fall In Love” and “All I Need to Know.” It’s hard to see him as a serious contender until a few other names tick off the list, but stranger things have happened. Consider this: Chesney has been country music’s only active and consistent stadium draw for the last 15 years. Chesney’s sold 30 million albums and had 30 Top 10 singles. Get ready for a reality where Kenny is a serious contender for Hall of Fame every year, and in a close field. What might be holding it back is Chesney himself. A Hall of Fame induction might feel like a the best year of his career are over, and Kenny doesn’t feel like one to resign himself to that just yet.
Shania Twain – Make no mistake about it, Shania Twain will be in the Country Music Hall of Fame some day. During her era, nobody was a bigger commercial success than Garth Brooks. With over 100 million records sold, she is the best-selling female country artist of all time, and one of the best selling music artists in all of music, period. She is the undisputed queen of country pop, and though traditionalists love to shake their little angry fists at her for ushering in the pop era of country, her influence is undeniable.
Something to always consider when talking about the Hall of Fame is proximity to voters. As a Canadian—and one whose been less in the spotlight lately—Shania may not be in the best position to lobby for her spot in the rotunda. But make no mistake, it’s coming, and likely sooner than later.
Other Potential Modern Era Inductees:
- Steve Wariner – With a surprising nine #1 singles throughout the 80’s, Wariner is not one of those flashy characters that immediately jumps out at you as a Hall of Fame contender, but he quietly put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He’s also a guy who hangs around the right places in Nashville to make sure selection committee members don’t forget about him, so don’t be surprised if his name pops up as an inductee. He’s been rumored to be on the final ballot the last couple of years.
- Toby Keith – Officially eligible because his first success was in 1993, Keith is probably on the outside-looking-in for the next few years since he didn’t start to peak until the 2000’s, and he remains a fairly controversial character.
- Tim McGraw – McGraw never had that consecutive string of years when he was the biggest thing in country music like many Hall of Fame inductees, but he has shown a longevity in his career and is well-liked into the industry to the point where in a few years, you can expect him to be bumped up to a front-runner.
- Lorrie Morgan – With 6 millions records sold worldwide and 40 charting singles, she’s a contender for the future for sure. But she might have to wait until her former husband Keith Whitley gets in before she has a shot.
- Earl Thomas Conley – (Petition)
- Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, The (Dixie) Chicks, and Alison Krauss are some other names that are officially eligible.
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
The potential inductees in the Veteran’s Era category continues to get even more cluttered and backlogged, especially with so many recent names from the Modern Era category rumored to be on the cusp of being inducted now being considered Veteran’s Era nominees such as Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, and others.
• Last Year’s Inductee: Ray Charles
• Saving Country Music Prediction: Tanya Tucker, Larry Gatlin and the Gatilin Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Crystal Gayle
• Saving Country Music’s Picks: Maddox Brothers & Rose, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley, Tanya Tucker
Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and because of his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be overstated. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), then his old Sun Studios buddy can’t be counted out. Jerry Lee Lewis is the last man standing from the Million Dollar Quartet, and is now 86-years-old. Jerry Lee’s name has been rumored to have been in contention and on final ballots for many years. Maybe 2022 will be his time, especially since these Hall of Fame inductions are best done when the performers are still around to enjoy them. An online petition exists to try and push Jerry Lee over the top.
Tanya Tucker: Though hypothetically, the selection committee is supposed to be agnostic on current events when making Hall of Fame decisions, often a resurgence in an artist’s career can coincide with an induction. Tanya Tucker would certainly meet that distinction with a comeback record in 2019 that received two Grammy awards in 2020, and great critical acclaim, along with a new documentary that was just released.
But beyond the short term, Tanya Tucker’s career has spanned five decades, with amazing longevity. Staring as a a prodigy star with her debut hit “Delta Dawn” in 1972, she amassed ten #1 singles, another nine #2’s, and 35 total Top 10 hits, including 24 from the mid 80’s into the late 90’s in her career’s second resurgence, starting as more of an Outlaw singer, but landing big mainstream hits. Tanya Tucker has lived many lives and seen it all in country over the last 50 years. Her career has certainly been Hall of Fame worthy.
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers –With 33 Top 40 singles and 15 Top 5’s and three 1’s, Larry Gatlin likely accrued the numbers throughout the 70’s and the 80’s to be a Hall of Fame contender, not to speak of the influence he wielded in country music through that period, both as a solo artist, and with brothers Steve and Rudy. But also bolstering Larry Gatlin’s case is he’s one of these “men about town” types that seems to be at every function and gala in the country music realm, is active in the community, and is willing to help keep the legacy of country music alive, which the Hall of Fame selection committee often rewards. Larry Gatlin is a name that is hard to forget, and rumors have had his name on the final ballot over the last few years.
The Maddox Brothers & Rose: The Maddox Brothers & Rose set the very foundations for both The Bakersfield Sound, and California Country at large that would become wildly influential in the future. Their flamboyant stage dress inspired by the cowboys of the silver screen directly sparked the Nudie Suit craze in country music that is still en vogue today. And Rose Maddox was one of the very first successful women in country music, and opened up the role of women as country entertainers for generations to come.
If groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be. Their worthiness for the Hall of Fame was underscored in the 2019 Ken Burns country music documentary where the group was featured prominently.
NOTE: Since Don Maddox passed away in 2021 at the age of 98, it may make Maddox Brothers and Rose ineligible for induction this year due to the mortality rule. But either way, their name should always remain in the conversation come Hall of Fame time.
Ralph Stanley / The Stanley Brothers: Ralph Stanley and The Stanley Brothers continue to be a glaring omission in the ranks of Hall of Fame members. A seminal figure in the emergence of bluegrass in both the original era, and during its second wind after the success of O Brother Where Art Thou, Ralph Stanley and his brother Carter are the type of influencers and ambassadors the Hall of Fame rotunda was built for. Universally beloved inside Nashville and beyond, a former Grand Ole Opry member, and a powerful name to represent the bluegrass side of country, The Stanley Brothers would be a strong pick few would quibble with, and is well past due.
Linda Ronstadt: Of course it could be easy to cast off Linda Ronstadt as a legitimate candidate for being a country artist who eventually crossed over into pop and rock. But few paid their dues as much as Linda did early in her career, including her years in the Stone Poneys, her debut solo album in 1969, Hand Sown…Home Grown, 1970’s Silk Purse that included cover songs of “Lovesick Blues” and “Mental Revenge,” and her 1972 self-titled album where she recorded “Crazy Arms” and “I Fall To Pieces.” Even when she achieved her breakout pop rock success, Linda Ronstadt was always honest about the genre and approach of her music, and then returned to country in the groundbreaking “Trio” project with Hall of Famers Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
Other Veterans Era-eligible artists may deserve an induction more than Ronstadt at the moment due to the crowded backlog. But with the wild way the Veterans Era is picked, don’t be surprised if she ends up as an inductee in the coming years, and has been rumored to have made it on the final ballot recently.
Eddie Rabbitt: Aside from maybe Gary Stewart, the case could be made that Eddie Rabbitt is the most wrongfully overlooked star in country music history. Gary only had one #1 song in his career though. Eddie Rabbitt had 20 of them, and 34 total Top 10 hits, most of which he wrote himself. And all 34 of Rabbitt’s Top 10 hits came in a row, one after another, between 1976’s “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind)” and 1990 “Runnin’ With The Wind.” Eddie Rabbitt’s career wasn’t just accomplished, it was downright Hall of Fame worthy. But you never hear Eddie Rabbitt’s name brought up in the context of the Hall of Fame. Actually, you barely ever hear his name at all, in part because he passed away at the relatively young age of 56. But Eddie Rabbitt definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame discussion.
Gram Parsons: Gram’s inclusion in Hall of Fame consideration is always a topic of great discussion. In 2013 there was a greater push than ever to induct him, with influential country music writer Chet Flippo personally making the case for Parsons. But it wasn’t meant to be, and it may be many years before it is, especially with the current backlog in the Veterans Era. But his name is always in the field for this accolade, and looking at the influence Gram had turning on millions of rock and roll fans to the importance and coolness of country music, it always should be.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe: These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts—especially in the current political climate—Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted. One positive sign for these two was the induction of Hank Williams Jr. in 2020, who has his own controversial past. (Johnny Paycheck Petition)
Other Potential Veterans Era Inductees:
- Vern Gosdin (sign the petition) “The Voice” has to be considered a strong candidate in the long term, but the log jam in front of him may have to break before he’s given serious consideration.
- Lynn Anderson: Lynn Anderson and Dottie West were the two ladies that lead the field for female veteran inductees for many years. Now that Dottie is in, it moves Lynn one step closer. It’s only the strong backlog in front of Lynn that makes it seem difficult for her to get the nod in 2022. But with the continued movement to be inclusive to women, Lynn and other women will benefit from elevated consideration.
- Rosanne Cash- Folks sometimes forget just how big Rosanne Cash got in the 80’s with ten #1 hits, and a huge influence on the genre at the time. She’s not just Johnny Cash’s daughter, or an Americana icon. Rosanne Cash could be a legitimate Hall of Famer in her own right.
- Mickey Gilley – With 42 Top 40 singles and the role he played during the Urban Cowboy era, Mickey should be considered a contender.
- Gene Watson – With five #1’s across country and Gospel and 76 total charted singles, Gene Watson was an understated superstar, and the fact that he continues to remain active in trying to keep both is own legacy and the legacy of country music alive makes him a name worth considering.
- Crystal Gayle – Loretta Lynn’s sister and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” singer has fans and allies in the industry, and expect her name to be bandied about for the Hall of Fame in the coming years.
- Jimmy Martin – You probably have to put Ralph Stanley and the Stanley Brothers in before Jimmy Martin gets considered. His personal antics might also hold him back as well. But the “King of Bluegrass” should be put in eventually.
- Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers: Perhaps a long shot, or at least until the Veteran’s Era backlog is cleared, brothers-in-Outlaw-country-arms Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement were inducted over the last decade, so many the proprietor of Hillbilly Central will get his due in the coming years.
- John Hartford – The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When you come to the John Hartford display, he is the first in the timeline to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date. He may not be a flashy name, but he’s a name who should be considered.
- The Wilburn Brothers
- The Bellamy Brothers
- Johnny Horton
- June Carter Cash
- John Denver
- Jack Greene
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- Slim Whitman
- Wanda Jackson
- Wynn Stewart – (Petition)
- Jimmy C. Newman
- Sammi Smith
- Jeannie Seely
The non-performer inductee is likely to be an industry personality like a label head, a producer, or some other individual who made a significant impact on country music behind-the-scenes. But if Saving Country Music had a vote, it would be for country music writer Chet Flippo, or clothing designer Nudie Cohn.
Chet Flippo: Along with writing the liner notes to many of country music’s most iconic albums, including Wanted: The Outlaws and Red Headed Stranger, Chet’s work with Rolling Stone in the 70’s exposed country music to entirely new crowd and generation. Chet Flippo helped make country music cool, and continued in a journalistic capacity to become an elder statesman and one of the most respected opinion makers in the business.
Flippo was an editor and writer for Rolling Stone until 1980 when he left to write a biography of Hank Williams, but continued to contribute to the magazine over the years. From 1991 to 1994, Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before moving to Nashville. From 1995 until 2000, he was the Nashville Bureau Chief for Billboard, leaving in 2000.
Flippo was later known for his work on CMT.com in his always-enlightening Nashville Skyline columns. For 12 years he oversaw editorial content for CMT. A writer who had seen it all with the courage to say what he believed, Flippo had the ability to stimulate discussion like none other in his field. Though he never seemed exactly at home on CMT with his more traditional country mindset, Flippo’s air brought a sense of legitimacy to the whole CMT operation. If there ever was a music writer who deserved Hall of Fame induction, it is Chet Flippo. He passed away in 2013.
Nudie Cohn – When you go to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, there is one man’s influence you will see more than anyone else’s. No, it’s not the Father of Country Music Jimmie Rodgers, or the first King of Country Hank Williams. It’s the timeless work of Ukrainian refugee turned Western clothier Nudie Cohn.
It was the music of artists such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Porter Wagoner, and Gram Parsons that made them famous. But the image we all conjure of these artists whenever their music comes to mind sprang from the imagination of Nudie Cohn. Hank’s famous white suit with the black musical notes waterfalling down the sleeves and legs was a master work of Nudie Cohn.
Porter Wagoner eventually owned 52 Nudie Suits, with each one costing roughly $11,000 to $18,000 (not adjusted for inflation). The Gram Parsons suit worn as part of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin album in 1969 with the pills and marijuana leaves emblazoning the coat was a Nudie Suit. The artists who didn’t wear Nudie Suits in country music’s classical era were easier to count than the ones that did, while wearing the suits crossed well over into the rock and popular music world.
When Nudie Cohn passed away on May 9th, 1984 at the age of 81, many country music stars attended the funeral, and mourned his passing as if he was one of their own—not a servant or a side participant in the music, but an equal player. Much of Nudie Cohn’s work is already in the Hall of Fame, including the Pontiac Bonneville convertible with the pistol door handles and rifle sidebars designed for Webb Pierce. It’s time now that Nudie Cohn the man be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as well.