The first inductee announced by recent inductee Bobby Bare was Hank Cochran, inducted as a songwriter. Jo Walker Meador announced the inductee in the Veteran’s Era as Mac Wiseman. And Hunter Hayes announced Ronnie Milsap as the Modern Era inductee.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association, or 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 45 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). In 2014, a songwriter was up for the distinction.
Hank Cochran – Songwriter
Hank Cochran was one of the most successful, prolific, and critically-acclaimed songwriters country music has ever seen. This Mississippi native that was born in 1935 and died in 2010 wrote successful and touching songs in virtually every era of country music’s history. Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold recorded Hank Cochran songs. George Jones and Merle Haggard recorded Hank Cochran Songs. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings recorded Hank Cochran songs. Reba McEntire and George Strait recorded Hank Cochran songs. And so did Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn, all the way up to artists of today like Brad Paisley, and Jamey Johnson, who recorded an entire album’s worth of Hank Cochran songs in 2012.
Cochran was a sickly child that spent time in orphanages growing up after his parents divorced. After working with his hands for years and living in California, Cochran found his way to Nashville where he wrote the iconic tune “I Fall To Pieces” with Harlan Howard, and made famous by Patsy Cline. It was all downhill for Hank from there. Patsy also recorded Cochran’s “She’s Got You”, Ray Price and Eddy Arnold cut “Make The World Go Away”, Mickey Gilley and Ronnie Milsap cut “That’s All That Matters”, and many years later, George Strait would sing “Ocean Front Property”.
Though Cochran is mostly revered as a songwriter, he did have his own successful performing career as well. Between 1962 and 1980, Cochran cut his own singles and had some moderate chart success. But his biggest song only reached #20 with “Sally Was A Good Old Girl”. Cochran was always more of a songwriter than a performer, but he defined that vital behind-the-scenes role for generations, and sets the standard for songwriters still in place today.
Inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame back in 1974, Hank Cochran’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is very well-deserved.
Ronnie Milsap – Modern Era
A blind piano from Robbinsville, North Carolina, the 71-year-old Milsap became one of the most commercially-successful artists country music has ever seen in the 70’s and 80’s. Ronnie amassed an incredible forty #1 hits—a number that has only been outmatched by the greats George Strait and Conway Twitty. Fusing pop, rock, and blue-eyed soul elements into his country style, Milsap became incredibly successful as a crossover artist, and holds the distinction right beside artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, and Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins as being considered one of the most successful piano players in this history of country music.
Rendered sightless when he was a small child, he was abandoned by his mother, and raised by his grandparents in the Smoky Mountains. At the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, NC, Milsap’s musical talents were quickly discovered and he began to be taught classical piano. He formed a rock band in high school, went to college on a music scholarship, and dropped out to pursue music full time, finding his first major gig playing piano for J.J. Cale. Charley Pride saw Milsap playing one night at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, and convinced Milsap to move to Nashville and pursue country music. But Milsap’s rock roots never completely left him. Opening for Pride and playing songs from some of country’s greatest songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Don Gibson, Milsap went on to be awarded six Grammy Awards and eight Country Music Association Awards, including his 1977 wins for both Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.
Ronnie Milsap’s success from crossover appeal has been though to be the reason this distinction has eluded him for so long. But with such an impressive list of accolades, it is hard to argue with his induction. Ronnie Milsap remains an active performer today, releasing his latest album Summer Number Seventeen in March.
Known affectionately as “The Voice with a Heart”, the 88-year-old Wiseman was a cult bluegrass singer, songwriter, guitar and bass player, but is known best as a man behind-the-scenes as a seminal member of the CMA. Wiseman played with both Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, played in Bill Monroe’s legendary backing band, The Bluegrass Boys, and is an inductee to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1993.
Mac Wiseman was first made famous by recording “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”. The song’s success moved Wiseman’s carrer more into the direction of country music and away from bluegrass, and he signed with Dot Records in 1957, before moving to Capitol in 1962. In 1969 he moved to Nashville and signed with RCA Victor. Later in life he once again gravitated back to bluegrass and became a big mover and shaker in the CMA organization.