Country music’s strong roots in religion, family, and celebration were tested Sunday, and proved resilient during the 2022 edition of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Medallion Ceremony.
“We’re not gonna be sad today,” declared Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs upon inducting fellow Kentuckians Naomi and Wynonna Judd into the Hall. His remarks were in reference to the death, just one day prior, of Naomi, aged 76, of causes attributed to mental illness.
The decision to still hold the Medallion Ceremony in the wake of the tragedy was the choice of the Judd family.
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Skaggs continued, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” His quoting of the New Testament’s book of Matthew 5:4 was one of many direct calls to religion to heal grief and sadness throughout the evening.
Before Skaggs’ speech, Kyle Young, the CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said the Judds were synonymous with the Carter, Delmore and Everly siblings in country music history. He then added that the duo “sang their hearts out loud and lived their lives out loud” while also “(singing) on harmony even when they didn’t live in harmony.”
Following tearful, brief remarks from her younger sister Ashley (“I’m sorry that [Naomi] couldn’t hang on until today”), Wynonna Judd spoke for four minutes. She said Naomi Judd, 76, diedat 2:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. She said her mother’s last living moments included praying the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. The crowd in attendance all recited the Psalm in unison with Judd to complete her speech.
“It’s a strange dynamic to be this broken and this blessed … But though my heart is broken, I will continue to sing,” Wynonna Judd said.
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Joy was still a part of the proceedings, though.
Eleven appearances by artists who have sold in the range of 300 million albums in the past half-century were also a highlight. Particularly, recent ACM and CMA award-winning Female Vocalist and Artist of the Year Carly Pearce’s earnest, heartwarming take on The Judds’ 1984 “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)” and soulful roots duo The War and Treaty’s scintillating version of Ray Charles’ 1962 “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” track “You Don’t Own Me” were warmly received.
Additionally, Trisha Yearwood sang her classic (featuring Eddie Bayers’ drumming) “Walkaway Joe,” plus veteran performer and recent The Voice finalist Wendy Moten singing George Jones’ legendary “He Stopped Loving Her Today” were standouts.
Artists including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, blues legend Bettye Lavette, plus Gillian Welch and David Rawlings offered renditions of classic country anthems featuring the new inductees. Also, Marty Stuart closed the event with a rousing sing-a-long take of the Carter Family’s century-old anthem, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
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Charles was inducted by his friend and fellow blind country legend Ronnie Milsap. The joy on Milsap’s face joined with the crowd in attendance moving past their sadness over the Judds’ just-prior induction to tapping their feet on the floor and cheering when the first piano chords of the blind pianist’s 1959 hit “What I’d Say” played during his induction video.
Regarding the vocalist known for songs like “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” who died in 2004 as inimitable, 2014 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Milsap added, “There was one of him and only one. He sang country music like it should be sung.”
As for session musicians Pete Drake and Eddie Bayers, they — as a slide guitarist and drummer, respectively — were intrinsically responsible for the melodic and rhythmic moments that spawned two consecutive generations of country music’s pop-crossover eras.
Drake died in 1988, but as a member of Nashville’s A-team of top session musicians for two decades, he played on songs including Tammy Wynette’s 1969 “Stand By Your Man” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, which is regarded by many country aficionados as one of the genre’s quintessential tracks.
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His stylings being so intrinsic to country music history — plus being the inventor of the talking music actuator (or “talkbox”) that inspired artists like Peter Frampton, the Eagles’ Joe Walsh and numerous others to experiment with voice-amplified instrumentation — allowed him to be the first pedal steel guitar player to become part of the Hall of Fame.
As for Eddie Bayers, he was described by Hall of Fame CEO Young as a “metronome with a heart,” whose most outstanding attribute was “serving the song, his singer, and his fellow musicians,” more than himself.
As described, the man responsible for playing on numerous ’90s country hits, upon receiving his Hall of Fame Medallion, highlighted the importance of his wife to his career. He honored the Judds by noting that he was the drummer on the demo recordings that Naomi Judd passed onto producer Brent Maher, leading to the tandem being signed to RCA Records.
In closing the Medallion Ceremony, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2019 artist-in-residence and 2020 inductee Marty Stuart stated, “country music’s broad shoulders and even bigger heart were showcased here tonight.”