Ray Charles, The Judds and musicians Pete Drake and Eddie Bayers are the newest inductees into one of country music’s most coveted, exclusive groups, the Country Music Hall of Fame. Reba McEntire, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011, hosted a virtual announcement Monday (Aug. 16) to announce this year’s inductees.
Annually, the Country Music Hall of Fame sees honorees inducted in three categories: modern era, veterans era and one of three rotating categories including non-performer, songwriter and recording and/or touring musician.
The Judds go in under the modern era section, while Ray Charles is this year’s veterans era selection. Drummer Bayers and pedal steel player Drake are in the recording and/or tour musician category.
Mother-daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd first hit the country charts in 1983, and a year later, earned their first No. 1 with “Mama He’s Crazy.” The song became the first of eight consecutive No. 1 hits, including the 1985 CMA single of the year, “Why Not Me,” “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ole Days)” and “Have Mercy.” Their 1990 hit, “Love Can Build a Bridge,” earned the Judds a Grammy for best country performance by a duo or group with vocal. The duo held court over the vocal group and vocal duo of the year CMA honors from 1985 through 1991. In 1991, Naomi retired from The Judds due to a chronic hepatitis infection, while Wynonna went on to launch a successful solo career, led by hit songs including “No One Else on Earth.”
“As an artist, it’s wonderful to be included in the family of country and as a believer, I thank God for my gift. As an American, it’s just wonderful to celebrate anything,” Wynonna said during the announcement. The Judds are the first all-female duo or group to be inducted.
During a virtual press conference afterwords, Wynonna let it slip that she couldn’t keep the big news a secret, even though artists are supposed to wait for the official announcement. “I think I said it the next day onstage and the fans went, ‘Oh!,’” Wynonna told reporters. “I can’t keep anything a secret. You know me, I like to talk about what’s real. They told us not to tell anybody but that’s kind of funny because at this point, it’s time to celebrate. In America, we need something to look up to and go ‘Yeah, there’s still hope.’ So if we can be that, amen.”
For Naomi, the pair’s struggles before fame still come into play when it comes to being honored. “I want to be open to having somebody celebrate me,” Naomi said of the induction ceremony in spring, 2022. “I was a single working mom for all those years, and I just got kicked in the face and let down, and so many bad things happened to me. I’m at a place now where [if] somebody says, ‘Thank you,’ I say, ‘I appreciate that.’”
Charles’ 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was a landmark album in country music, blending R&B, soul, gospel and jazz on his versions of country classics including “You Win Again,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” After he released Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Vol. 2, he earned the Top Ten hits “You Are My Sunshine” and “Take These Chains From My Heart.”
He continued recording country material including “Crying Time.”Charles earned a Horizon Award CMA nomination in 1985, along with the No. 1 hit “Seven Spanish Angels” alongside Willie Nelson. Charles’ additional country hits could include “We Didn’t See a Thing” (with George Jones and Chet Atkins), “It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind” (with Mickey Gilley) and more. Over his career, Charles, who died in 2004, earned 17 Grammy Awards. He becomes the third Black musician to be inducted, following Charley Pride (2000) and DeFord Bailey (2005).
Bayers becomes the first drummer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has played on sessions for Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Garth Brooks, among others. He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry’s house band for 18 years, and was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019.
Drake, who died in 1988, becomes the first pedal steel player to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He played on iconic country recordings including Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and on sessions for Ringo Starr, Elvis Presley and more. He was part of Nashville’s famed A-Team, and played on 118 gold and platinum albums throughout his career. In 2007, he was posthumously inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame.
In the virtual press conference after the announcement, Drake’s widow, Rose, recalled how much her husband enjoyed working with Wynette. “I think if he had ever fell in love with one artist, it was Tammy Wynette,” she said. “He loved her energy, he loved her sadness, he loved her voice. There was just a special connection.”
Last year’s Country Music Hall of Fame inductees included Marty Stuart (modern era artist), Hank Williams Jr. (veterans era artist) and songwriter Dean Dillon, who has penned numerous hits for George Strait, as well as songs recorded by Kenny Chesney, George Jones, Chris Stapleton and more. Their ceremony, postponed because of COVID-19 concerns, will take place in November.
Induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame has long been viewed as a career pinnacle achievement, recognizing significant contributions to the advancement of country music from both creative individuals and industry executives. In 1961, the first artists and executives to be inducted included Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams.