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Country hall inducts three

Monday, October 26, 2015 – The Oak Ridge Boys and the late Jim Ed Brown the Browns and Grady Martin joined the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday in the Medallion ceremony.

Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Vince Gill were among those who performed at the event to welcome the new members.

"These men and women distinguished themselves through virtuosity, harmony and heart," said Jody Williams, BMI executive and trustee on the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's Board of Officers and Trustees. "They have made music that endures through decades. Tonight, we honor them-respectfully, formally, and enthusiastically-as country music masters."

Williams opened Martin's tribute with a listing of his equipment and styles: "Guitar, fiddle, or six-string bass. Electric, acoustic. Thrusting rockabilly, delicate lead runs. Fuzz-tone, twang. If you were a song, he'd give you whatever you needed."

Born on a Marshall County farm in Middle Tennessee on Jan. 17, 1929, Martin was a fan of the Grand Ole Opry, listening at first on a homemade radio. Roy Acuff and DeFord Bailey, at first, influenced Martin.

Martin left the family farm at age 15 for Nashville to play fiddle. In 1949 he joined Little Jimmy Dickens' the Country Boys. That same year, Martin played on his first hit, recording a solo on Red Foley's 13-week chart topping single, "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy."

Martin was a presence at the Quonset hut studio and at RCA's Studio B, the key recording studios in Nashville. Williams cited the acoustic guitar part Martin created for Marty Robbins' 1959 hit "El Paso" and the fuzzed-out electric solo on Robbins' 1961 classic, "Don't Worry." Of the latter, Williams said, "A soundboard amplifier blew during a studio session, and Grady's water-clean guitar suddenly sounded distorted and raucous. What to do? Some people in the room thought it sounded wrong. Grady knew it sounded just right. He played what became one of country music's most famous solos, through malfunctioning equipment."

Martin recorded with both Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

Musical tributes, with surprise guests, are always part of the Medallion Ceremony. Martin's celebration began with a performance of "El Paso" by Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, with Gill playing Martin's guitar part.

Stuart joked that he readily agreed to perform the song when invited, but the next day realized he took on the task of learning a song with "469 words and about 2,000 guitar licks." Stuart joked, "I don't know who gets the worst job, me or Vince."

Mandy Barnett and guitar ace Duane Eddy performed "Don't Worry."

Williams introduced guitarist Pete Wade, a longtime friend and colleague of Martin's, who brought with him a guitar Martin gave him, a Gibson 335 electric famously known as "Big Red." Buddy Miller joined Wade. Miller sang the Conway Twitty hit "Fifteen Years Ago," with Wade's guitar support.

A Hall of Fame member always inducts the newcomers, officially welcoming them to the elite group. Brenda Lee established her ties to Martin in her opening statement. Her voice quivering with emotion, the 71-year-old member of both the country and rock halls of fame said, "I started recording with Grady when I was 10 years old. Grady meant the world to me, and he played on every one of my hits."

Lee described Martin as her mentor, friend and surrogate father. "What Grady played is a part of the fabric of what we all do," Lee said. "So often, what we all do, he did it first. So often, what we do, he did it best."

Joshua Martin, Grady's son, accepted the Hall of Fame medallion on behalf of his family. Joshua acknowledged that his father often skipped evenings designed to honor him, but he thought his father would be here tonight if he was alive, "I know he'd want to be here, if he was still with us, because this is the highest honor you can achieve in country music. This is it."

Williams opened the tribute to vocal trio the Browns (siblings Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie), and Jim Ed Brown for his long-running solo career, by addressing their special place in country music.

"In country music, we sometimes pontificate about who was the greatest, who was the best, who was the most important," Williams said. "We don't argue, though, about who was the smoothest. There's only one correct answer: the Browns. Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie: the smoothest, most elegant vocal sound in country music, ever."

The Browns came from Arkansas, children of a lumberman and his wife. In 1954, Jim Ed and Maxine scored a Top 10 country hit with "Looking Back to See," and the duo hit the road. But the Browns sound wasn't complete until 1955, when younger sister Bonnie turned the duo into a trio. "In a car bound for California, Jim Ed and Maxine were singing their song, 'Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,'" Williams recalled. "Bonnie joined in-effortlessly, smoothly. Jim Ed Brown spoke out loud, saying, 'That's the sound we're looking for.' It was sibling harmony of the sort that can be instantly enjoyed, but never duplicated."

In 1959, the trio recorded "The Three Bells," and the single topped the Billboard country chart for 10 straight weeks, setting a record for country groups that would stand for 56 years. The Browns recorded more beautiful, smooth hits, including "Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)," "The Old Lamplighter" and "Then I'll Stop Loving You."

Maxine and Bonnie retired from the road. Jim Ed forged ahead as a solo act, but struggled until he recorded the Nat Stuckey song "Pop a Top."

In 1976, Brown formed an award-winning duo with Helen Cornelius, scoring nine top 10 hits, including the classic chart-topper "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." Brown remained a steadfast presence on stages, on television, and especially, as a Grand Ole Opry ambassador, for the rest of his life. Brown died earlier this year soon after releasing a new album.

"When cancer took its toll on his magnificent voice, he knew that what he had sung was loved and honored," Williams said, "and that he and his sisters had been elected into this Hall of Fame."

To celebrate the Browns' music, Williams introduced Texas swing specialist Carolyn Martin and Nashville roots-music favorite Chris Scruggs, who performed "Looking Back to See."

Other performances included contemporary gospel music stalwarts the Isaacs, presenting "The Three Bells." Bentley toasted his fellow Jim Ed Brown with a take on "Pop a Top." "He really took me under his wing and made me feel comfortable and welcome," Bentley said.

Bobby Bare, a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, filled in for fellow Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, who had planned to give the induction speech for the Browns, but had to cancel because of illness. "I met the Browns in the summer of 1961 at a big fair up in Iowa," Bare said. "They were big stars. I had just seen them the week before on The Ed Sullivan Show."

Bare shared dinners at the Brown family home in Arkansas in the 1960s, and decades later recalled gourmet dinners and a fish fry prepared by Jim Ed Brown at his Nashville residence. As for the Brown sisters, Bare said, "Maxine has a mouth on her," drawing a burst of laughter from the crowd. "If you don't really want to know the answer to a question, don't ever ask Maxine. She's going to give you the full answer. That's why we love her."

Bare also recalled how Chet Atkins, who produced early albums for the Browns and Bare, "really loved the Browns." Atkins told Bare that the Browns had the greatest sibling harmony he had ever heard. "That's really saying a lot," Bare said, "because Chet produced the Everly Brothers."

Becky Brown, representing Jim Ed Brown, said her husband of 54 years didn't looked at success in terms of happiness. "He was happy," she said. "He spent his whole life doing what he wanted to do, with people he loved, and for people he loved. He felt so blessed every day."

Bonnie Brown noted that it was the late Hall of Fame member Minnie Pearl's birthday, so she quoted her famous saying, "I'm just so proud to be here." Bonnie noted that she and her sister left the road in the 1960s to raise their families, then introduced her husband, daughters and extended family.

Maxine joked that Bonnie only joined the group because they were touring with Elvis Presley.

Williams introduced each member of the Oak Ridge Boys: Duane Allen from Taylortown, Texas; Richard Sterban from Camden, N.J.; Joe Bonsall from Philadelphia, and William Lee Golden from Brewton, Ala.

"Without music, these men would never have known each other," Williams said. "They would have led separate lives, in separate places. But with music, they are bound permanently, unforgettably."

Drawn together by a love of gospel quartet singing, the four members all remember particularly loving the exuberant sound of the Oak Ridge Quartet, as the group was known from 1945 to the mid-1960s.

Golden joined the group in 1965, and Allen joined the following year. Sterban came aboard in 1972, and within a year, Bonsall completed the quartet's long-running, most famous lineup. Encouraged by manager Jim Halsey, the quartet began thinking beyond gospel. At first, Music Row was reluctant, believing the Statler Brothers already accounted for a country group that performed in the style of a gospel quartet.

But Jim Foglesong "figured the Oak Ridge Boys were too good to fail" and signed the group to ABC/Dot Records, Williams said. "And Jim Foglesong was right."

n 1977, the Oak Ridge Boys hit the Top Five with "Y'all Come Back Saloon." A year later, they topped the country chart with "I'll Be True to You." In all, they achieved 17 number 1 singles and 37 Top 20 country hits, including such high water marks as "Fancy Free," "Bobbie Sue," Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" and "Elvira."

The Oak Ridge Boys earned 1 double-platinum album, 3 platinum and 12 gold albums.

"Always that harmony, that fifth famous voice, rooted in gospel, positive in perspective, bringing joy, bringing excitement," Williams said. "Whether singing songs of faith, or love songs, or the national anthem at hundreds of sporting events, or the giddy-ups that precede the 'oom papa mow-mow's,' they brought harmony to a world that's rife with dissonance."

Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, an emergency replacement for Chris and Morgane Stapleton, whose travel plans were interrupted by flooding in Texas, performed "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight."

Brooks and Yearwood performed the love song "I'll Be True to You," the Oak Ridge Boys' first number 1 hit, in 1978. With Brooks on acoustic guitar as the only musical accompaniment, Yearwood sang two verses, with her husband on harmony. Brooks took the last verse, and Yearwood joined in for the final chorus.

In a surprise to the Oak Ridge Boys, the Martin Family Circus bounded onstage. Featuring Duane Allen's daughter Jamie Allen on vocals with support from her husband, Paul Martin, and their four children, the group delighted Allen, his vocal partners and the rest of the audience with an animated version of "Elvira." The children - March, 17; Kell, 14; Texas, 10; and Tallant, 8 - drew out the celebratory nature of the sing-along hit.

Kenny Rogers inducted the Oak Ridge Boys, saying, "There's nowhere I'd rather be than right here tonight." Rogers and the vocal group often toured together in the 1970s, and Rogers recalled a quote from his father, who told him to be friendly to everyone, but to become friends with only a few.

"I chose the Oak Ridge Boys to be friends with," Rogers said. "Friendship doesn't come without strings. You have to do what your friends ask you. They would be ready for you, if they're good friends. You guys have been that to me. I have to tell you, I'm so, so proud of you."

Each member spoke about what the induction meant to him. "In a lifetime and career of incredible things, this is the most incredible thing that has ever happened to the Oak Ridge Boys," Bonsall said.

"The Oak Ridge Boys are family," he continued. "We've always been family. Family is what's most important. We tried to run our group that way. Trying to do what's right. Trying to be honest always, like our parents taught us. Treat people right. I really think that's why we're here today."

Allen followed, citing three points behind the Oak Ridge Boys success. "The first one is luck," he said. He recalled how he walked into talent agent Don Light's office just as the gospel-based quartet was about to give up looking for him. They knew Allen had been in the army, and they weren't sure they could find him. If they couldn't track him down within days, they were going to break up the act.

"I joined the Oak Ridge Boys that day, and in April that would have been 50 years ago," he said. "Don Light told me the luckier you are, the harder you work. We still work 150 days a year." His second point was "fortunate." Allen noted how fortunate the band had been to work with Jim Halsey as a manager, with Foglesong as the record label head who signed the group, and with producer Ron Chancey, among others.

His third point was "blessings." Raised on a farm without running water, "I dreamed of singing in a group that sang harmony," Allen said. "There's no way I could have dreamed what has happened tonight. I thank God for his many blessings."

Bass singer Sterban said, "I want to thank the good Lord above for making this evening possible. I want to thank Him for giving the four of us the ability to sing, and to harmonize together. Without harmony, the four of us would not be here tonight." Sterban recalled that before he joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1972, he spent two years with J.D. Sumner & the Stamps, who often toured as background singers for Elvis Presley. "It never entered my mind, when I was onstage singing with Elvis, that someday I would be in the same Hall of Fame as him. But here I am tonight, going into the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is a night we'll never forget, and I don't think we'll ever be the same."

Golden started by thanking his partners and detailing his rise from a poor child on a cotton and peanut farm without power or water to a singer in a Hall of Fame country group. "This has been a wonderful journey, and I hope it's not over," Golden said. "We're all healthy and feeling good."

He concluded by saying, "I wouldn't take anything for this moment right now!"

The Medallion Ceremony is the official induction of new Hall of Fame members. A private celebration, the ceremony features a guest list that focuses on family members and colleagues of the inductees, allowing them to share the exalted occasion with those they love and those they worked closest with in their careers.

The performers were backed by the Medallion All-Star Band, led by guitarist and musical director Biff Watson. The band included drummer Eddie Bayers Jr., pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin, electric guitarist Steve Gibson, bassist Larry Paxton, mandolinist and fiddler Deanie Richardson, keyboardist Matt Rollings, and harmony vocalists Thom Flora and Tania Hancheroff.

The audience at the private celebration was packed with Hall of Fame members, who welcomed the new inductees into their exclusive club. Hall of Famers in attendance were Bare, Brooks, Gill, Lee, Rogers, Harold Bradley, Roy Clark, Ralph Emery, Emmylou Harris, Ray Walker of The Jordanaires, Charlie McCoy, Randy Owen of Alabama, Connie Smith, and E.W. "Bud" Wendell.

The audience offered a moment of silence in memory of Hall of Fame members lost in 2015: Jimmy Dickens, Billy Sherrill and Brown.

Sarah Trahern, CMA chief executive officer, recalled tracking down the Hall of Fame inductees - or in Martin's case, finding his family with help from Lee - and how emotionally each one reacted to the news of their election to the Hall of Fame. She recalled how she gave Jim Ed Brown the news while sitting in her office, after luring him and his daughter Kim there under the guise of doing an interview.

Brown at first paused and asked Trahern to "please repeat" what she had said. "I obliged, and I will never forget what happened next," Trahern said. "He threw his arms back over his head, knocking his ball cap end-over-end onto the floor. He smiled ear-to-ear, and exclaimed, 'I wondered if this would ever happen while I was alive.'"

After a pause, Trahern added, "In June, he was smiling again as Bill Anderson slipped the Hall of Fame Medallion around his neck as he was formally inducted just days before he succumbed to cancer."

The evening closed with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Hall of Fame members gathered at the front of the stage. The Oak Ridge Boys took turns singing the verses, with all the Hall of Famers present and the crowd joining in on the choruses.

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