Being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame is the highest honor any country music performer, musician, songwriter, or professional in the country music industry can receive. Unlike other Hall of Fame institutions, the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most exclusive, most selective, and also one of the most secretive in how it selects its newest members.
Only three new members are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame each calendar year under the current rule structure first ratified in 2010. One artist is chosen in the “Modern Era” (eligible for induction in this category 20 years after they first achieve national prominence), the “Veteran’s Era” (eligible for induction in this category 45 years after they first achieve national prominence), and the Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980, (rotates every three years). The Hall of Fame itself—meaning the building and the organization that operates it—don’t actually pick the new inductees. It’s the Country Music Association, or CMA who chooses the nominees and eventual inductees each year.
But aside from these basic ground rules, and the stipulation that a potential candidate cannot be eligible for a year after they’ve passed away to discourage sympathy votes, the rest of the rules and bylaws governing how the Country Hall of Fame selects the newest inductees have remained virtually sealed, whether on purpose, or on accident, or just apathy towards posting them publicly. Nowhere on the Hall of Fame or CMA website can you find the official rules, and it’s been that way now for over half a decade. Numerous requests by Saving Country Music (and others) to obtain copies of the current rules have gone unanswered.
However in 2013 and prior, the rules were published in plain sight by the Hall of Fame. Recently while a colleague was researching the differences between the Country Music Hall of Fame and its Rock and Roll counterpart, they were able to pull up the Country Hall of Fame rules via archive.org. With so many fan groups and families of artists attempting to petition the Hall of Fame for their favorite artists or loved ones to be inducted, the degree of difficulty in getting inducted due to the finite amount of spaces each year, and the importance of transparency with any process that holds as much weight as a Hall of Fame induction, it seems important these rules would be published publicly, and in complete form.
And so with the one stipulation that these were the rules when they were last displayed publicly in 2013 and may have received minor tweaks subsequently, here is the official Country Music Hall of Fame election procedure in its entirety, and verbatim.
CMA established the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 as an institution devoted to recognizing and honoring noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to Country Music. The information below details the Hall of Fame selection process and criteria for evaluating candidates for the award.
Selecting Country Music Hall of Fame inductees happens in two phases:
- Nomination of Candidates
- Election of Winners
A Hall of Fame Nominating Committee will be vested with the responsibility of nominating a slate of Hall of Fame candidates. From this slate, which will also include a write-in portion for nominations on the first ballot, winners will be chosen by a panel of not less than 100 Hall of Fame electors.
The Hall of Fame Nominating Committees (Modern and Veterans Era)
- The committee will consist of 12 voting members, each serving a three‑year term.
- The CMA President and Chairman of the Board, along with the Chairman of the Awards & Recognition Committee, will serve as ex‑officio non‑voting members of the Hall of Fame Nominating Committees.
- The Hall of Fame Nominating Committees will each elect its own chairman.
- Each year, before the expiration of the terms of four members of the Hall of Fame Nominating Committees, the Awards and Recognition Committee will present four names to the CMA Board for ratification at their first quarterly Board meeting. A member whose term expires may again serve after the passage of three years.
- No member of the Hall of Fame Nominating Committees will be eligible for nomination to the Hall of Fame while serving on either of the Nominating Committees.
Panel of Electors
- A panel of at least 100 Hall of Fame electors will be charged with responsibility of selecting Hall of Fame winners.
- Electors will serve for life so long as they are in compliance with Items 7 and 8 below.
- Additional appointments may be made to the Panel of Electors as deemed necessary by the Board to maintain a sufficient number of Electors.
- Appointment to the Panel of Electors will be made by the CMA Board of Directors by a majority vote from a roster of recommended names prepared by the Awards and Recognition Committee. Any Board member may suggest additional names for consideration. Electors will be appointed on an individual basis, not as a panel
- The 12 members of the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee will also serve as Electors.
- Members of the CMA Board of Directors may also serve as Electors, but this role is not automatic.
- Electors must have participated actively in Country Music for at least 10 years and must themselves merit respect and recognition for their accomplishments and/or knowledge in one or more aspects of Country Music. Electors must be members of the Country Music Association.
- Electors failing to vote two consecutive years will automatically be considered incapacitated and their names dropped from the Panel. Written request will be required for reinstatement.
Nomination of Hall of Fame Candidates
- Each year the Chief Executive Officer of CMA and the Director of CMF will each present five names to the Nominating Committees for consideration. The committees will not be limited to or bound by those suggestions. Neither the CMA CEO or CMF Director is an elected member of the Nominating Committees and, therefore, neither has voting rights.
- Each year, at a date chosen by the Association, the Hall of Fame Nominating Committees will, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, nominate no less than 10 nor more than 20 Hall of Fame candidates as official nominees for each category to be inducted in that year. Deceased persons must have been dead one year prior to nomination.
- Beginning in 2010, there will be three induction categories:
- Modern Era (eligible for induction in this category 20 years after they first achieve national prominence),
- Veterans Era (eligible for induction in this category 45 years after they first achieve national prominence), and
- Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years).