Some of music’s finest talents — Ronnie Milsap, Shelby Lynne, Craig Morgan, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill — were among a bevy of significant artists and Music Row executives who witnessed Sunday’s induction of two new members to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: Ferlin Husky and songwriter-producer Billy Sherrill.
In a here-today-gone-tomorrow culture, the names might not ring familiar to everyone. A girl in her 20s outside the Hall asked at the end of the night about Sunday’s soiree, then shrugged her shoulders in a “Who?” sort of manner when told the names of the inductees. But both men provided important building blocks to get the genre to the mainstream idiom it is today.
Husky used comedic talent and a strong vocal presence to fashion a series of hits in the 1950s and ‘60s. Two of them emerged as country standards. “Gone” has often been cited as the first example of the so-called Nashville Sound. It was made without the standard fiddle and steel guitar, and the harmonies — provided by the Jordanaires with Millie Kirkham soaring over the top — gave it a lush, middle-of-the-road pop aura. Ronnie McDowell got a standing ovation Sunday for his version of the song, replete with the Jordanaires and Millie, now a senior citizen, who hit those impossible notes as perfectly as she did in 1956.
“She was on so many of my records,” Charley Pride quipped. “I didn’t know she was still doin’ that. I would have had her on a whole lot more!”
Ricky Skaggs and the Whites teamed up during the ceremony for a version of Ferlin’s other standard, “Wings Of A Dove,” that had Hall of Fame member George Jones singing along in the audience. Monday marks 50 years since Ferlin recorded it.
Ferlin, who’s survived at least nine heart bypass operations during his lifetime and had a tube supplying oxygen into his nostrils, ambled out of his wheelchair long enough to have Charley drape the Hall of Fame medallion around his neck.
“God bless everybody that’s here and had anything to do with bringin’ me here,” the emotional Ferlin said, looking skyward as he spoke.
Billy was already a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame after crafting a resume that included co-writing credits on such hits as David Houston’s “Almost Persuaded,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and George Jones’ “The Grand Tour.” He also produced such significant singles as Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” David Allan Coe’s “The Ride” and Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job And Shove It.”
Craig Morgan captured the hazy barroom setting of “Almost Persuaded” in tribute; Shelby Lynne turned in a feisty version of “Stand By Your Man”; Lee Ann Womack delivered a dramatic reading of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which Billy produced; and Ronnie Milsap played a smooth cover of Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which Billy co-wrote.
It is, Hall of Fame member Frances Preston noted, “the work of a very shy man.”
“You gotta have a lotta help gettin’ here,” Billy said of the induction, “and I had it.”
The event came to a close with all the Hall of Fame members in attendance taking the stage for a mass celebration on the Carter Family classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” Bill Anderson, Vince Gill, executive Jim Foglesong, Billy Sherrill, Frances Preston, Ferlin Husky, former CMA chief Jo Walker-Meador, the Jordanaires, Earl Scruggs, guitarist Harold Bradley, harmonica player Charlie McCoy, Barbara Mandrell and former Opry head E.W. “Bud” Wendell took part. Shelby Lynne kissed Ricky Skaggs’ cheek, grabbed the back of Mel Tillis’ neck and hugged George Jones as it all came to a rousing close.