The Country Music Hall of Fame rolled out the welcome mat for three new inductees Wednesday morning at a press conference in Nashville. In the two vocalist categories, harmony was something that was stressed with the announcement made by Brenda Lee of the forthcoming inductions of the Oak Ridge Boys in the Modern Category and Jim Ed Brown and The Browns in the Veteran Category. Rounding out the trio of additions was legendary musician Grady Martin, inducted into the Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980 category.
Originally formed in 1943 as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, the Oak Ridge Boys originally became known as the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1947 and then the current moniker in 1961. One of the biggest acts in Southern Gospel music, the quartet added William Lee Golden to its lineup in 1964, Duane Allen in 1965, Richard Sterban in 1972 and Joe Bonsall in the fall of 1973. Though the lineup of the Oaks has included many names over the years, it was this lineup that has been together the longest — and also the one to seek out acceptance outside of the gospel genre.
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It took a while to gain acceptance in the country field, but 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon” kicked off a 15-year period that would see the Oak Ridge Boys be one of the most-successful acts on country radio. Their first No. 1 came in 1978 with “I’ll Be True To You,” but it wouldn’t be their last. Sixteen other chart-toppers followed on the Billboard Country Singles chart, including “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” “I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes,” and a somewhat forgotten Dallas Frazier composition from the 1960s titled “Elvira.” Released in 1981, the song became their biggest hit single.
The group continued to tour and record over the years and hosted their own TNN variety series for a period in the late 1990s. Though the group has not appeared on the singles chart since 1999, they continue to market their music especially well. Their last four albums have all hit the top 30 on the Country Albums chart, including 2009’s experimental The Boys Are Back, which was produced by Dave Cobb.
Born in Sparkman, Ark., Jim Ed Brown first started performing with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie. In 1954, Jim Ed and Maxine secured their first record contract together, hitting No. 8 on the singles chart with “Looking Back To See.” Bonnie would join them not long after graduating high school and they notched another hit with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” They would switch labels in 1956, signing with RCA Victor, where they clicked with songs like “I Heard The Bluebird Sing.” In 1959, despite a successful run together, they told Chet Atkins at RCA that it was their intention to disband. They owed the label one more session and from that came “The Three Bells,” which sold over one million copies and topped both the Country and Pop charts.
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The three stayed together through 1967, at which time Maxine and Bonnie retired from the road to raise their families. Jim Ed stayed on RCA and soon found himself on the airwaves as a solo artist, hitting the charts with such smooth singles as “Pop a Top,” “Morning” and “Man and Wife Time.” Brown also became a television favorite as well, hosting syndicated series such as Country Place and Nashville on the Road. His solo hits continued into the mid-70s, when he began a recording partnership with newcomer Helen Cornelius. Their first single, “I Don’t Have To Marry You,” was a chart-topper in 1976 and led to a CMA Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. Subsequent hits included “Don’t Bother To Knock” and “Lying In Love With You.” The 1980s would see him tackle television once again by hosting the TNN series You Can Be A Star. The singer has just underwent a successful battle with cancer and has just released his first album in three decades, In Style Again.
Known as one of the most innovative guitarists of his time, Thomas Grady Martin’s work can be heard on such classic recordings as Marty Robbins‘ “El Paso”, Loretta Lynn‘s “Coal Miners’ Daughter” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night by Sammi Smith. The native of Chapel Hill, Tenn., also played on recordings by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Bing Crosby. Martin was a regular on Nashville sessions through the late 1970s. At decades’ end, he returned to being a touring musician (one of his first gigs was as a member of Little Jimmy Dickens‘ Country Boys band) with stints in the bands of Jerry Reed and Willie Nelson. The future Musicians Hall of Fame member retired from the business in the mid-1990s after producing Nelson’s Just One Love album. Martin died from complications from a heart attack on December 3, 2001.
The acceptance speeches were all emotional. Martin’s son thanked the crowd and spoke of his father’s legacy, while all three of the Brown family were misty eyed while reflecting on their career. Perhaps the Oak Ridge Boys summed up the feeling best for the inductees by comparing the Country Music Hall of Fame honor to being enshrined in the Baseball Hall. “This is Cooperstown,” he told the crowd. With that said, how will it feel to view an Oaks plaque in the Hall’s Rotunda by the end of the year? “It’s going to be unbelievable. The first thing I wonder is how they are going to do my hair,” he said, in reference to his many different styles over the years. “Will it be grey? Will it be dark? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It’s just going to be fun to see it.”