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COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES EXUDE CLASS
3/18/19

By Holly Gleason

Ray Stevens, Jerry Bradley, Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks (Photo by Donn Jones/CMA) 

Country music royalty who blazed trails. A comic who touched hearts. A pair of hard-working men who represented the blue collar honky-tonk zeitgeist. Monday’s event announcing the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019—hosted by WSM-AM’s Bill Cody—was long on emotion as Jerry Bradley in the Industry Category, Ray Stevens for the Legacy Era and Brooks & Dunn for the Modern Era become 2019’s additions to country music’s most prestigious institution.

“The day we announce the Hall of Fame inductees is always one of the most special of the year,” CMA President Sarah Trahern said after the announcement. “That all three are here with us makes it particularly special.”

Bradley, a man whose relatives include the legendary Owen Bradley, Harold Bradley and Patsy Bradley, as well as her wife, ex-ASCAP Nashville leader Connie Bradley, was tapped by Chet Atkins to help run RCA Records. Under Bradley, the label attained independence from New York, signed Hall of Fame members Alabama, Ronnie Milsap and Dolly Parton as well as nurturing young New York executive Joe Galante.

“Like my friend [songwriter/producer] Norro Wilson said, ‘I don’t know how I got here, but I’m not leaving,’” Bradley joked, before being so moved by the moment he needed to have Cody finish reading his thank yous.

Stevens, an acolyte of legendary Atlanta music man Bill Lowery, came into his own straddling comedy (“Guitarzan,” the 5-million-selling “The Streak”) and the serious (producing Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” penning the now-ubiquitous Grammy-winning “Everything’s Beautiful” as a theme for Andy Williams’ TV show). A business luminary who pioneered Branson theaters, the publishing industry and RFD-TV, the visibly moved renaissance man offered, “This is almost too much to take in, to be recognized as worthy to be part of this group included here.”

The entwined career of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, brought together by then Arista Nashville chief Tim DuBois, includes 60 charted singles, 40 Top 10s, 20 #1s and 12 platinum or multi-platinum albums. With a steroidal lean into the country music of beer joints and ice houses, as well as a full-tilt live show, the two veterans were bar-seasoned when introduced, then wrote “Brand New Man” with Don Cook two days later.

The reticent Dunn kept his remarks brief, turning to his partner to shake hands as he ceded the podium. The move, so simple, honored their partnership in a way words could not. And Brooks, always the more effusive, told the assembled crowd, “Like most of the people in this room, I’m a fan of country music. I grew up loving it, and the faces on this wall I never considered peers—I idolized them. The fact that I could share a little space on that wall? Just saying those words? Saying ‘I’m going into the Hall of Fame,’ it’s hard to spit them out.

“It’s not easy to protect the integrity [of what this is]. That’s what makes this so special. There are a lot of people in this room who have a lot to do with us being here—thanks for believing in us more than we did. We never celebrated, because we knew it was going to be over; it was just bad luck. So just thank you.”

Well-wishers filled the rotunda, where the inductees’ brass relief plaques are hung. Among the people celebrating this year’s class were recent CMHOF inductees Ricky Skaggs and The Oak Ridge Boys, as well as Sony chairman Randy Goodman, Maverick Management’s Clarence Spalding, Live Nation’s Brian O’Connell, former William Morris Nashville chair Rick Shipp, BMI’s Jody Williams, Opry EVP of Entertainment Sally Williams, CMA Marketing VP Damon Whiteside, Country Music Hall of Fame President Kyle Young and CMA Sr. Director Awards and Industry Relations Brandi Simms.