If the Country Music Hall of Fame needs some investigative work done, they need look no further than one of their members — Brenda Lee. The voters of the Hall elected Grady Martin in the Musician category earlier this year. However, there was just one problem. Martin passed away in 2001, and the Hall had no clue as to the whereabouts of his survivors.
Enter into the picture one “Little Miss Dynamite.” Lee was recruited by CMA CEO Sarah Trahern to find his son, Joshua. “It took me a day a half to find him,” Lee told Billboard on the Red Carpet prior to the Medallion Ceremony last night officially inducting Martin, Jim Ed Brown & The Browns, and The Oak Ridge Boys into the Hall. “It was like a Three Stooges show. First, I spoke with Delores at a diner. Then, I found another waitress at another diner, before talking to a Chief of Police, a Detective, and then I finally got the Highway Patrol, and they found him.”
The younger Martin was in attendance in March for the induction announcement, as well as for the Medallion Ceremony last night. “I know he would want to be here if he was still with us,” he said. “This is the highest honor you can achieve in Country Music,” he said, humorously adding that turnout among his relatives “was better than any family reunion we’ve ever had.”
Martin’s plaque was unveiled following a salute to his career featuring video remembrances from late Hall of Fame members Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, and Ferlin Husky talking about his unique style of guitar playing. Several of the songs that Martin played on such as “El Paso” (performed by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives with guitar accompaniment from Vince Gill). “Don’t Worry” (with Mandy Barnett reprising Marty Robbins’ part and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Duane Eddy handling the trend-setting fuzz tone part). Next up was Buddy Miller along with an all-star Nashville band (including Pete Wade playing Martin’s one-time guitar) on “Fifteen Years Ago,” a number one Billboard hit from 1970 by Conway Twitty.
Next up in the order of the program were Jim Ed Brown & The Browns. Sister Bonnie Brown recalled that the role that fate played in their story. Their hits had slowed somewhat in the late 1950s, and by 1959 were about to leave the business and return to their native Arkansas. “We were going to tell Chet Atkins at RCA that we were just going to give it up. But, we had this song that we had the words to — and we all liked it. So, on the way to Nashville for a session, we rehearsed it and sang it for Chet. We recorded it, and after the session he told us “You can’t retire now. You’ve just recorded the biggest song of your career.” That song was “The Three Bells,” which topped both the Country and Pop charts by years’ end.
The Browns were saluted in song by The Isaacs, who delivered a flawless version of “The Three Bells,” while Chris Scruggs and Carolyn Martin performed “Looking Back To See” — their first hit from 1954. Jim Ed’s solo work was also recognized, with Dierks Bentley giving a honky-tonk treatment of “Pop A Top,” which started his solo career in 1967. “To borrow a quote from Minnie Pearl, I’m just so proud to be here,” said Bonnie. Both sisters noted their brother — who received his Medallion in the hospital only a few days before his death in June due to cancer. The induction was something that had been on Brown’s mind for some time, according to fellow Grand Ole Opry star Trisha Yearwood. “There was always a kind word from him, and support for newer artists. I remember talking to him in 2012 — when Garth went in, and I said ‘I can’t believe that The Browns aren’t in yet. He just smiled and said ‘I can’t believe it either.’ So, I know how much it meant to him.”
The final induction moment of the night belonged to The Oak Ridge Boys. During the pre-show festivities, Garth Brooks talked about his love and appreciation for the Oaks and all they have accomplished — including extending a helping hand to a new Oklahoma artist back in 1989. “Up in the northeast, where they wouldn’t allow a cowboy hat back then, they opened their arena shows to us. They continue to be an influence on my career to this day.”
Brooks teamed up with Yearwood for a moving version of “I’ll Be True To You” during the Oaks’ tribute. Jeff Hanna from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gave a spirited version of “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” and the final tribute came from someone very much inside the Oak Ridge Boys family. The Martin Family Circus — consisting of lead singer Duane Allen’s daughter Jamie, husband Paul, and their children — performed a rollicking version of the iconic “Elvira,” which got the invitation-only crowd involved, singing the Dallas Frazier-written lyrics to the rafters inside the CMA Theater. The Oaks each took time to thank their families for standing by them, while Allen asked each member of the quartet’s organization to stand up during their speech — a rarity among Hall of Fame acceptance speeches. But, don’t utter the word retirement yet. Baritone William Lee Golden assured the audience that the Oaks were singing better than other and that the future — including their 32-date 2015 Christmas tour which kicks off Nov. 17 in Branson, Missouri — is nothing but bright.
The evening ended with a group performance of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” as the attendees then moved to the upstairs portion of the Hall for a VIP Reception. Many of the previous inductees were in attendance, including Kenny Rogers, Ralph Emery, and Emmylou Harris. Some feel that number needs to grow even more. Brooks respectfully stated that “If I can make one plea, we’ve got to do a system for the Hall of Fame to hear that we’re not getting artists in fast enough. Jim Ed was one of the sweetest people in town, and I’m glad that he was alive when he heard the news, but he needed to be here tonight to enjoy this. I just think we need to take a real look at that, give in, and open the doors.”