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Country Music Hall of Fame honors George Strait, Harold Bradley, Sonny James

Monday, May 7, 2007 – Country Music Hall of Fame members guitarist Harold Bradley, country-pop hitmaker Sonny James and current superstar George Strait were honored Sunday at the hall by fellow hall of famers with the receipt of a medal commemorating their election to the hall.

Chairman of the Board E.W. "Bud" Wendell described the event as "the annual family reunion of the Country Music Hall of Fame."

The medallions were presented to the new inductees by longtime friends who preceded them into the Hall of Fame: Brenda Lee, who was 10 years old when she first worked with Bradley, had to get on her tip-toes to place the honor around the guitarist's neck; Porter Wagoner recalled touring with "the great Southern Gentleman" James and the many good times they'd shared; and George Jones spoke of Strait's dedication to traditional country music and to his wife, Norma Strait, and son, Bubba Strait.

Performers included Trace Adkins, Jimmy Capps, Charlie Daniels, Dean Dillon, Vince Gill, Dan Huff, Alan Jackson, George "Goober" Lindsey, Brent Mason, Reba McEntire, Randy Owen, Connie Smith, Ray Stevens, Lee Ann Womack and the Southern Gentleman vocal group (Lin Bown, Jack Galloway, Glenn Huggins and Garry Robble).

Backing the performers were musical director John Hobbs on piano and the Medallion All-Star Band, featuring drummer Eddie Bayers, fiddler Stuart Duncan, pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin, harmony singers Wes Hightower and Marty Slayton, guitarists Mason and Russ Pahl and bassist Michael Rhodes.

Country Music Hall of Fame members attending were Alabama's Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen; Bill Anderson; Jimmy Dickens; Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers; Jones; the Jordanaires' Louis Nunley, Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker; Lee; Charlie Louvin; Jo Walker-Meador; Frances Preston; Wagoner and Wendell.

Hall Director Young served as master of ceremonies, welcoming guests and addressing the accomplishments of the new Hall of Fame members. "In striving to meet the high standards set by their musical predecessors, Harold Bradley, Sonny James and George Strait have clearly used the specifics of their individual life experiences to create timely and timeless music, music that speaks to the human condition, and thus music that fosters solidarity amongst all peoples," Young said. "All three men have worked the better part of their lifetimes to get where they are tonight."

As he has for the last four years, Country Music Hall of Fame President Gill opened the ceremony with a hymn, choosing "Drifting Too Far from the Shore" and dedicating it to the late Brian Williams, a former member of the Hall of Fame Board of Officers and Trustees, who had passed away since the 2006 medallion evening.

Young called Bradley "the dean of Nashville session guitarists" and "the most recorded guitarist in history." Young told of Bradley's beginnings, from his high-school gig as a touring member of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours to his countless sessions backing a litany of fellow Hall of Fame members, including Bill Anderson, Patsy Cline, Red Foley, Lefty Frizzell, Don Gibson, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Webb Pierce, Conway Twitty and many others.

Charlie Daniels, with Gill on Bradley's trademark "tic tac" bass guitar, performed Tubb's "Thanks a Lot," followed by Adkins, using his deep baritone to strong effect on Twitty's "Hello Darlin'" with support from Capps in the Bradley role, on rhythm guitar and the rest of the Medallion band. McEntire came on stage and recalled her 1970s sessions with Bradley, when the singer, then a newcomer, would pepper the guitarist with questions about Cline, one of her heroes. She then drew gasps of recognition with her stunning rendition of Cline's first number one hit, "I Fall to Pieces," with Brent Mason on tic tac bass guitar.

Bradley, in accepting his medallion, said, "Surely God has had his hand on my shoulders all my life," while sharing his honor with his family. Bradley choked up when speaking of his brother Owen, 10 years his senior. "Here I am, getting to go into the Hall of Fame with him," he said. "It's very emotional for me."

Bradley closed his segment by performing the instrumental "Lara's Theme" with the Medallion All-Star Band.

Sonny James grew up on a family farm where crops were worked by mules and horses and the home was lit by coal-oil lamps. As a child, the young Jimmy Loden (his stage name Sonny James would come later) performed with the Loden Family on radio stations in Knoxville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., and later as a solo artist in Memphis and Shreveport.

His friend Chet Atkins introduced him to Ken Nelson at Capitol Records, who became his producer. The 1957 hit "Young Love," recorded four years into his career, rocketed him to stardom. Ten years later, in 1967, he released 16 consecutive number 1 hits.

As a musical tribute, Connie Smith performed a "A World of Our Own," joined by Dann Huff on acoustic guitar and James' longtime partners, the Southern Gentlemen, on harmony vocals. Owen followed, performing a doo-wop version of "You're the Only World I Know" with the Southern Gentleman.

Gill sang a beautiful "Young Love," then Ray Stevens drew howls of laughter when he walked on stage in a buffalo headdress, complete with horns and a Native American buckskin outfit to sing James' 1969 hit, "Running Bear." Midway through, Lindsey fueled more laughter by walking from the side stage dressed as "Little White Dove," the object of the singer's affection in the lyrics.

James acknowledged his family and the band who traveled with him, including bassist Milo Liggett, who was in the audience, and the Southern Gentleman harmony singers. "They came up with a sound for me, and when you put those guys together, it really made my music come alive," James said. "It was an identifying sound. It's been such a pleasure working with all these guys."

Strait played rock in high school before delving deeper into country music at a military base in Hawaii while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Young spoke of Strait's fateful connection with club owner and promotion man Erv Woolsey, who would manage him for his entire career and how the Texan had to overcome a bias against traditional music to get his start in Nashville.

The musical tribute began with songwriter Dillon, who has had more Strait cuts than anyone else. He sang "The Chair," the first of many number one hits he's created for the Texas star. Womack then offered a powerful version of "The King of Broken Hearts," a Jim Lauderdale song that Strait recorded on the multi-platinum "Pure Country" soundtrack.

Jackson strode out from the side of the stage, thanking Strait for his down-to-earth style and humble manner, before offering a romping take on "The Fireman," a song Jackson first sang while working his way up through nightclubs in Tennessee and Georgia.

Jones then came up to introduce Strait and give him his medallion. The legendary Hall of Fame member said, "Few artists achieve what George Strait has." He also recalled their first meeting in the early eighties, when Strait performed at the Jones Country theme park and then joined Jones at home to watch a football game. "Now he's King George," Jones said. "And he never changed from being the shy, quiet kid from Texas. He still rides horses and gets to be a cowboy. He stayed married to the same woman, Norma, for 35 years. Hot damn, that's good, you know!"

Strait accepted his medallion, telling Jones, "You're the king, I don't care what you say." Quickly growing emotional, Strait choked up between sentences. "From the day I started singing country music, I dreamed of getting into the Country Music Hall of Fame," he said. "It's the ultimate achievement you can have in this business, so that's what I wanted. I'm truly honored and blessed today to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame."

The evening ended with the honorees, performers and members of the Country Music Hall of Fame standing on stage performing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

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