Eight years ago, we posted our second edition of Hall Worthy, a list of significant country music figures who we felt were most deserving of being in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Since then, a lot has changed. First and foremost, more than half of the list is now in the Hall of Fame (or, at least, headed there later this year.) An additional entry, Wanda Jackson, is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A bigger change came in 2009, when new categories were introduced to ensure that two artist inductees would be represented from different eras: The Modern Era (20-44 years of national prominence), and the Veterans Era (45+ years of national prominence.) There are also three more categories that rotate, meaning one from each category gets in every third year: Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician.
Finally, since that list was published, our readership has grown tremendously and is incredibly well-versed on country music, past and present. So in this new and now annual edition of Hall Worthy, we are going to run down the list of the most successful artists that are eligible but have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, in the order of “Hall Worthiness.”
The Modern Era:
Scoring his first hit in 1990 with “Here in the Real World”, Alan Jackson is the most successful country artist that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame. His storied career has included 25 #1 hits and 49 visits to the top ten. He’s won a slew of awards over the years, including many for his songwriting. He is the most traditionalist of all of the nineties superstars, but has managed to stay relevant regardless of how pop the genre went over the past quarter century, selling more than forty million albums in the U.S. alone. He should be the next inductee for the Modern Era.
Since its inception, the top honor an artist could be given at the Country Music Association awards is this one: Entertainer of the Year. Originally a revolving door of winners, the winner in early years was often not even nominated the following year. In 1981, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist to win the award twice. Alabama succeeded her with a three year run from 1982-1984. Fourteen years later, Garth Brooks became the first artist two win four times, a feat later matched by Kenny Chesney in 2008.
Here’s a look back at the award from the very beginning, along with some facts and feats about the category and its nominees.
- Bill Anderson
- Eddy Arnold
- Merle Haggard
- Sonny James
- Buck Owens
One year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold was named the very first Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural CMA awards in 1967. Don’t assume it was a sympathy vote. Arnold had three #1 hits in the twelve months leading up to the ceremony, as he was in the middle of his impressive mid-sixties comeback, a period best defined by the 1965 classic, “Make the World Go Away.” He remains the only member of the Hall of Fame to win this award after being inducted.
After languishing in the shadows for more than a decade, Charlie Rich suddenly rose to prominence when his soul-influenced country music achieved massive crossover success.
Even among the new traditionalists of the early nineties, Mark Chesnutt stood out as a traditionalist, bringing pure country to the radio dial for more than a decade.
That such inoffensive music could ever cause such controversy may seem silly today, but Denver’s crossover success in the country market reached its peak with a 1975 CMA win for Entertainer of the Year.
Coming one short year after the hotly contested Olivia Newton-John win for Female Vocalist, presenter Charlie Rich may not have been in the right frame of mind when he lit the envelope on fire before announcing Denver’s win, but he certainly spoke for the wide dissent felt among the industry’s rank for these genre carpetbaggers.
As we did last year, it’s time to share our preferences for this year’s CMA Awards. Last year, Taylor Swift was the belle of the ball, winning four awards. Some long winning streaks came to an end, as Swift replaced both Kenny Chesney as Entertainer of the Year and Carrie Underwood as Female Vocalist of the Year. Lady Antebellum ended Rascal Flatts’ long run as top Vocal Group, and were the surprise winners of Single of the Year as well.
Once again. I’ve selected the five artists that I believe are most deserving of an Entertainer of the Year nomination. But first, let’s take a look at last year’s race:
Entertainer of the Year (2009)
- Kenny Chesney
- Brad Paisley
- George Strait
- Taylor Swift
- Keith Urban
Swift was victorious in her first nomination in this category. She competed against three previous winners: Kenny Chesney, who has gone 4 for 8 in this category; Keith Urban, who is 1 for 5; and the incomparable George Strait, who is 2 for 17. Brad Paisley lost for the fifth year, tying Kenny Rogers for the most nominations without a win.
Producing primarily pop-flavored country music has rarely been a ticket to immortality for even the biggest artists, particularly the female ones. Imports like Shania Twain and Olivia Newton-John are labeled impostors. Faith Hill’s canny song sense is overlooked while hubby Tim McGraw’s is widely praised. Brilliant Dolly Parton records like “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5″ are cited as being beneath her greatness, rather than prime examples of it. Only Patsy Cline has been given a free pass, and who wouldn’t want to claim those pipes?
Back to the Nineties continues with a look at Mark Chesnutt, one of the strongest traditionalists to break through in 1990. He won the Horizon Award in 1993 while he was riding a streak of three consecutive #1 singles.
Chesnutt’s greatest commercial and radio successes came early on. His first three studio albums went platinum and his fourth went gold. He’d earn an additional platinum record with a hits collection assembled from those sets.
While he remained a consistent presence on radio for the entire decade, his sales tapered off. His last big hit was his 1999 cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which went to #1. In more recent years, he’s limited his covers to The Marshall Tucker Band and Charlie Rich.
Ten Essential Tracks:
“Too Cold at Home”
from the 1990 album Too Cold at Home
Chesnutt’s first twelve singles reached the top ten, starting with this pure country hit that finds him hiding out in a bar on a sweltering summer day. “It’s too hot to fish, too hot for gold, and too cold at home.”
from the 1990 album Too Cold at Home
He’s still at the bar for this hit, his first to top the charts. This time, the woman has left him, and his only family left are the jukebox, wine, freedom, and time.