The Prospects of Linda Ronstadt & Freddy Fender for Country Hall of Fame

Early summer is traditionally the off-season for Country Music Hall of Fame talk. The 2022 class was just announced less than a month ago, and we’re likely a good 9 to 10 months out from when the secret committee selected by the CMA (Country Music Association) will begin to convene to consider the class of 2023.

But a recent petition launched to coincide with Freddy Fender’s birthday, and subsequent media reporting, has stimulated a healthy amount of discussion about the prospects for Freddy Fender being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s also stimulated a greater discussion about Hispanic contributors in country music; none of whom are in the Hall of Fame presently.

Whenever discussing the Country Music Hall of Fame, the first thing you must appreciate is the severe austerity with which the CMA approaches adding new inductees. There is no other Hall of Fame, in the United States or perhaps the world, that is more stingy with its inductions to the point where only words such as “extreme” are viable for describing how difficult induction is. This is on purpose, to keep the Hall of Fame exclusive, and to maintain the gravity of the honor once it is finally bestowed.

Each year, only two entertainers are inducted in two primary classes, 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.” There is also a third rotating category for touring/studio musicians, songwriters, and non-performers, changing every three years. Except for instances of a tie, three inductees is all you get each year, and only two from the performer class.

To read the full Country Music Hall of Fame rules as we know them presently, CLICK HERE.

So fans of Freddy Fender, Linda Ronstadt, or any other artist awaiting induction should not feel like their favorite artists are somehow special because they haven’t been picked yet. Basically every artist who is not in the Hall of Fame is being purposely excluded, because that’s how the Country Hall of Fame system works, with the line of worthy and qualified artists standing in the wings only getting longer and longer each year, and frustrated fans feeling like their favorite artists are being conspired against for various reasons.

Removing all forecasts and prognostications, and just assessing the situation at face value, would I consider Freddy Fender a Country Music Hall of Famer in the long term? Yes, I would. Does he have the gaudy sales numbers or awards to make him a shoo in? No, he doesn’t. With only four #1 singles, and a Top 10 career that only lasted just over two years, there are dozens of artists whose resumes outpace Freddy’s also awaiting induction, including other artists with active campaigns to get them in.

But numbers are not the only consideration when it comes to Country Hall of Fame induction. And when it comes to intangibles, Freddy Fender scores very high. First, two of those four #1 singles are all-time country music standards that also saw major crossover appeal: “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”—the first of which was also a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and later won the 1975 CMA for Single of the Year.

Like Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Charles, Freddy Fender also had an outsized impact on country music because he opened the music to wider audiences, and also helped break down stigmas that country music was solely the arena of white Americans. Freddy Fender’s work with The Texas Tornadoes also deserves to be considered, which Fender formed in 1989 with Doug Sahm, Flaco Jiménez, and Augie Meyers, even if the band’s impact was more regional, and not exclusive to country.

Freddy Fender won a Grammy in 1990 for his work with the Texas Tornadoes, and another one for Best Latin Pop Album in 2002 for La Musica de Baldemar Huerta. Veronique Medrano, who is a Tejano artist from Brownsville, TX is the one who has stepped up to spearhead the effort to get Freddy Fender into the Country Music Hall of Fame, starting a petition, and writing a lengthy column about why she feels Freddy Fender is worthy.

But as we know, being worthy of Hall of Fame induction, and actually receiving it are two very separate things, even when there is a very dedicated campaign behind the effort. Lorrie Morgan and others worked for some half a dozen years to get Keith Whitley indicted, which finally is happening in 2022, and this was a campaign from someone in Nashville with deep connections to the industry. A movement called Bocephus Belongs was started in 2015 to try and get Hank Williams Jr. in who’d been passed over for two decades, and they finally broke through five years later in 2020.

But don’t pin five years as the magic number. A petition out there for Vern Gosdin was started seven years ago, and The Voice isn’t even rumored yet for Hall of Fame contention. A movement to get Gram Parsons in is well over 15 years old now, and currently seems out of reach.

Considering that Freddy Fender would be going in via the Veteran’s Era category, and with the stacked list of contenders ahead of him based on a host of factors including the rumors of the names on the final ballots over the last five years, those looking to induct Fender in the Country Music Hall of Fame should realistically consider it to be at least five years out, and only then be considered as a possibility only with an constant and dedicated campaign.

In 2023, the Veteran’s Era inductee has to be Tanya Tucker. With 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, and a 2019 album that won multiple Grammy Awards, Tucker has remained commercially relevant for going on 50 years. With the Hall of Fame’s austere system, there is always one artist that seems scandalously overlooked to the point of it almost being comical. Right now, that’s Tanya Tucker.

Other names that have been rumored to be on the five-name Veteran’s Era final ballot that is ultimately pared down to the one inductee are Lynn Anderson, Crystal Gayle, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, and though you haven’t seen her name in a couple of years, Linda Ronstadt.

If you’re looking for an artist with Hispanic heritage who also was unafraid to express that throughout her career that could help represent all Hispanic artists in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Linda Ronstadt would be the first name you choose. Though final ballot rumors are not verified, around and after Ronstadt’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease which was later clarified as PSP, there appeared to be a strong effort to get her into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s very possible she could be the Veteran’s Era inductee as early as 2024, and has to be considered a strong contender in the next 3 to 5 year

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 Ronstadt 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.

It’s very possible Linda Ronstadt could be inducted soon, since her PSP diagnosis could limit her capability to participate in person in any induction in the future. It’s also likely Linda Ronstadt would need to be inducted before Freddy Fender is seriously considered, not necessarily because they’re both Hispanic, but because of the incredible backlog, and Linda is arguably the superior candidate.

A part of this discussion has been the accusation that the Country Music Hall of Fame has been purposely exclusionary to Hispanic artists. If the current CMA committee was opposed to inducting Black and brown artists at the moment, they wouldn’t have just inducted Ray Charles in the 2021 class, nor would they have considered Linda Ronstadt in the past. If anything, the Country Music Hall of Fame is looking to answer those calls for more diversity, even if the austerity of the process could make that excruciatingly slow.

I just don’t know that the statistics or career track of either Freddy Fender, Linda Ronstadt, or other Hispanic contributors such as Johnny Rodriguez, The Mavericks, or others is strong enough to make the assertion they’re being specifically overlooked, especially with so many white artists with monster numbers such as Tanya Tucker, Shania Twain, Clint Black, and many others still awaiting their induction as well. Eddie Rabbit had 20 #1 singles in country music, and he very well may never be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Freddy’s battles with drugs and alcohol just helped to dampen his career by the late 70s into the 80s—and also delayed its beginning when he was imprisoned in Louisiana (marijuana possession), recusing him from being a Hall of Fame slam dunk.

It’s also fair to point out that the CMA and Hall of Fame haven’t exactly overlooked Freddy Fender. He won a CMA Award in 1975 for “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” and though this was not mentioned in Veronique Medrano’s original article, or a follow up in My San Antonio that took an even more accusatory tone, the Country Music Hall of Fame actually did honor Freddy Fender in 2021 as part of their American Currents exhibit.

Though the Hall of Fame’s annual American Currents distinction certainly isn’t the same as an officially induction, often an installation in the museum portion of the Hall of Fame can be a precursor to an eventual induction, similar to the Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence” program. Both Keith Whitley and The Judds were given floor displays shortly before they received their official induction, so this should be taken as a good sign for Freddy Fender fans. It means Freddy is at least on the Hall of Fame’s/CMA’s radar.

But still, when it comes to trying to get an artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, regardless of who they are, a good long game is what is needed because of both the severely limited amount of opportunities, and the significant line that only grows longer each year to take advantage of those opportunities. Starting a petition, and putting together convincing arguments like what is being done for Freddy Fender at the moment is a good place to start. So is understanding that if Freddy Fender does get in, it won’t be in spite of being Hispanic, it will be because of it, at least in part. This is one of the things makes his career Hall of Fame worthy, and the Hall of Fame should work to make sure the Hispanic heritage and influence is represented within its membership.

As Freddy Fender advocate Veronique Medrano points out, “Before his death in 2006, Freddy Fender did an interview with Associated Press in 2004 discussing what it would mean to be considered for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, ‘Hopefully, I’ll be the first Mexican-American going into Hillbilly Heaven…’” he responded.

Hopefully that eventually will happen. But just like everything when it comes to the Hall of Fame, it might take time, while the bigger issue facing the Hall of Fame in general is how many artists remain on the outside that deserve to be in, and eventually probably will get in, but it may not be in their lifetime.

“It absolutely breaks my heart, it breaks my spirit to think that this man at the end of his life, all he wanted was this and they still couldn’t give it to him and still have not had the respect to give it to him,” says Veronique Medrano. This has been the case for too many country artists, and why a bulk induction, or the addition of another performer category perhaps for passed legends and early performers is long past due.

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To see a more detailed breakdown of Country Hall of Fame prospects and prognostications from 2022, CLICK HERE.

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