On Wednesday, February 4, the Country Music Hall of Fame will announce its newest members. The genre’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame is bestowed upon the absolute best of country music. In 1996 the CMHOF developed a set of categories to sort candidates, an effort intended to recognize the great breadth of the genre.
The Hall will admit three new members in 2009, one each from the following categories:
- Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980
- Performer, career achieved national prominence between WWII and 1975
- Performer, career achieved national prominence between 1975-current
Below are six living Country Music Hall of Fame candidates that deserve induction in 2009.
1. Jean Shepard
Shepard, the Grand Lady of the Grand Ole Opry, sang in a pure twang that was fists-out and fearless, country strong and true. Her 54-year membership at the Opry is the second-longest run for a female performer (Minnie Pearl, 56 years).
2. Connie Smith
In 1964, Smith earned an eight-week No.1 single with her debut “Once a Day,” the first sign of sweet things to come. Smith’s voice, equal in clarity and resolve, is a powerful, pristine instrument that has few rivals in country music, past and present.
3. Oak Ridge Boys
Originally a gospel group from Georgia, the Oak Ridge Boys moved into traditional country in the mid-1970s, earning 11 No.1 albums while setting the standard for vocal collectives in the genre.
4. Ronnie Milsap
Milsap and George Strait share the record for most CMA Album of the Year wins (four), and while Strait has remained staunchly traditional, Milsap moved into a country-pop territory that garnered him mainstream notice throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. He stands third behind Strait in Conway Twitty among artists with the most No.1 singles in country music history, and it’s high time he joined them on the illustrious Hall roster.
5. Barbara Mandrell
Her glitzy faux-soul style throughout the early ’80s often overshadowed an early catalog rich with traditional country. Mandrell was a multi-instrumentalist who is quite frankly the finest female entertainer the genre has ever produced.
6. Hank Williams, Jr.
Named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1987 and 1988, Williams was best known for his animated nature during live shows (and his weekly feature on Monday Night Football). Still, classics such as “Family Tradition” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” ensure his musical legacy is firmly intact as well.
Jerry Reed, Wynn Stewart and Dottie West are all deceased candidates that deserve mention as well. Songwriter Dallas Frazier and entertainer Jimmy Dean will be eligible when the Hall of Fame revives the Non-Performer category in 2010.