Whether it was the stark conviction and honesty of “On The Other Hand,” or the never ending love he professed in “Forever and Ever, Amen,” the voice of Randy Travis has given Country Music some of its finest moments. However, at Sunday’s Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony, the singer might have delivered his most unforgettable performances.
Travis -- who suffered a debilitating stroke in July of 2013 -- appeared on stage alongside of wife Mary to accept his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. After his spouse told the story of Randy’s rise to stardom in the 1980s, she gave the microphone to her husband, who brought the crowd to its feet (and tears) with the first verse from “Amazing Grace.” While the moment showed that Travis still had a way to go with his speech therapy, it also proved the determination of the singer to make it as far back as he has in the past three years.
Travis’s induction was one of many emotional moments during the ceremony, which also saw record executive and producer Fred Foster and Charlie Daniels being officially inducted as the Hall’s Class of 2016.
Foster was celebrated first, with Dolly Parton leading the way. Having signed her to her first recording contract, and producing her first chart single -- 1967’s “Dumb Blonde” -- the entertainment icon took a moment to say thank you. “You saw something in me no one else did…..You started my life,” she said emotionally. Up next was Brandy Clark, who delivered a flawless version of “Blue Bayou,” one of many classics that Foster cut on the late Roy Orbison. One of Foster’s later signings, Kris Kristofferson, also appeared on the Hall’s stage with fellow member Charlie McCoy to perform the classic “Me and Bobby McGee.” Interestingly enough, the subject of the song – a secretary of songwriter Boudleaux Bryant – was in the audience.
Foster, known for his mesmerizing story-telling ability concerning the artists he has worked with, was very soft and simple spoken after being inducted by Vince Gill, telling the crowd “I cannot come up with the words to describe how I feel...I want to thank the musicians, songwriters, and engineers that made me look like a producer,” said the 85-year old, whose latest production, Willie Nelson’s For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price, recently hit No. 5 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
Charlie Daniels – the second of a trio of North Carolina natives to be inducted into the Hall this year – was next shone the spotlight. Trisha Yearwood received a thunderous response with her version of “It Hurts Me,” a Daniels composition that Elvis Presley took to No. 29 in 1964. Jamey Johnson gave a moody reading to the classic “Long Haired Country Boy,” and Trace Adkins performed Daniels’ signature hit, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” backed by the talented Andrea Zonn on fiddle. Daniels’ selection to induct him, Brenda Lee, thoughtfully reflected upon her first meeting the singer at a Nashville mall in the 1970s, while telling the crowd that the two had carved out such a friendship that he actually named one of his horses in her honor. Daniels nodded in agreement. The singer thanked his organization for standing with and beside him over the years, and also reflected upon entering a Hall where his heroes such as Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb were members. “Many of the faces on the wall laid the foundation for all of us,” Daniels said.
As is the case with each year’s ceremony, the “Modern Era” recipient was feted last, and that turned out to be Travis. Alan Jackson, with whom the singer wrote several songs that were hits for both artists, performed “On The Other Hand,” while Brad Paisley gave the crowd an acoustic version of “Forever And Ever Amen.” Interestingly enough, both songs were voted as the CMA Song of the Year in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Closing out the Travis tribute was Garth Brooks, who showcased Travis’s ‘comeback’ hit, “Three Wooden Crosses,” also a CMA Song of the Year winner in 2003. Hand-picked by Travis to induct him, Brooks told the crowd “I’m going to do my best not to ‘fan girl’ right now,” but reminisced about the first time he heard the singer’s “1982” hit before Travis and wife Mary took to the podium.
After Travis’s performance, the finale was a fitting one – The Oak Ridge Boys leading the crowd of industry insiders and Hall of Fame members in a sing-along version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” the Carter Family song that has become sort of the National Anthem of Country Music. It was a night that celebrated the best in the format’s history, and one – that according to Brooks, righted a wrong. In 2011, when told of his impending induction, the singer lamented about entering a Country Music Hall of Fame without Travis. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. “Today the world is spinning right,” he said before the ceremony. “Never will you have to say ‘Randy Travis isn’t in the Hall of Fame ever again. It’s long overdue and well-deserved. I would not be standing her...I would not be married to Miss Yearwood….I would not be in this town if it weren’t for Randy Travis….Tell me some other artist in some other genre ever in the history of mankind who has taken a format, turned it around back to where it was coming from, and made it bigger than it was. It’s never happened. It will never happen again.