The Country Music Hall of Fame has selected Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart and songwriter Dean Dillon as this year’s trio of inductees, it was announced Wednesday morning by the Country Music Association.
Of all the Hall of Fame announcements in recent years, this particular crop may get even louder whoops and hollers than most from fans and insiders. Williams is being inducted in the “veterans era artist” category, Stuart was named in the “modern era artist” division and Dillon was selected in the “songwriter” category. (The hall awards someone from the latter profession every third year, rotating it with “non-performer” and “recording and/or touring musician” categories.)
Although absolutely no one will doubt the worthiness of Stuart and Dillon or suggest that their appointments came a moment too soon, Williams, 71, will no doubt be the most talked about inductee in many years, largely because so many fans considered him overlooked in previous years. Williams’ recording career and legacy of hits dates back to 1964, and some had wondered if his mercurial nature had rendered him too controversial for the hall. But his rowdy friends will be coming over to the hall’s rotunda in droves to see his plaque soon enough.
The singer alluded to the idea that the award might have been a while in coming while expressing gracious thanks in an emotional statement.
“Bocephus has been eyeing this one for awhile,” Williams said. “It’s a bright spot during a difficult year.” (Pandemic aside, the singer suffered tragedy in June when his daughter, Katherine Williams-Dunning, died in a car crash.)
“I have been making Top 10 records for 56 years,” Williams continued. “I fell off a mountain and tried to reinvent myself as a truly individual artist and one who stepped out of the shadows of a very famous man… one of the greatest. I’ve got to thank all those rowdy friends who, year after year, still show up for me. It’s an honor to carry on this family tradition.” (His father was inducted into the hall in 1987.) “It is much appreciated.”
Stuart has enjoyed a particularly high profile lately after having been one of the clear stars of Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series. Stuart is one of the form’s foremost historians as well as one of its stars, and might be the one country music singer who would be completely capable of switching gears to run and program the Country Hall of Fame himself on a moment’s notice.
“It is the ultimate honor in country music,” Stuart said in a statement. “I’m so honored to be included in this class and I’m honored to be included alongside Hank Jr. and Dean Dillon. I love those people. To be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is beyond words. I’m usually not at a loss for words.”
Dillon is among the most revered of country songwriters, living or dead, and is most famous for a long association with George Strait that has included that superstar alone recording more than 50 of his songs. (Among the Strait/Dillion catalog: hits like “Down and Out,” “Marina del Rey,” “The Chair,” “Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Famous Last Words of a Fool,” “If I Know Me” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.”) This isn’t Dillon’s first major accolade in the genre; he was honored by BMI at a 2013 ceremony with an Icon award, an honor often given out to legendary singer-songwriters who are more of an everyday household name than he is.
“I was just speechless,” said Dillon. “Trying to soak in the words that I had just heard. My life flashed before my eyes. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Dean, Marty and Hank Jr. into the unbroken circle and honor this revered milestone,” said Sarah Trahern, the CMA’s CEO. “I’m sad we can’t toast this year’s class in person at the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I hope this news can bring some joy and cause for celebration during this time that our world has turned upside down. In particular, our hearts are with Hank and his family following the recent loss of his daughter, Katherine.”
Said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, “In this, the most exclusive of music halls of fame, we now have three new deserving members. One is the son of one of American music’s greatest masters who became a self-made master of his own. One is a child of tough-town Mississippi who became a force for togetherness, inclusion and righteous musicality. And the third is an East Tennessee kid who triumphed over a hard youth to write words and melodies that have enriched us all. In a year of turmoil, strife and dissent, this announcement is something all of us can cheer.”
Unlike the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which has eight inductees this year, the Country Hall has continued to risk erring on the side of judiciousness with just three, Especially with one of those three slots always earmarked for a non-“star,” the hall’s nominating committee has a backlog of candidates that virtually everyone in the business would consider worthy and generates a high degree of anticipation about the few selectees each year.
Last year’s honorees were Brooks & Dunn, Ray Stevens and Jerry Bradley were honored. Their induction ceremony took place last October — a date that s unlikely to be repeated this year, due to the pandemic. The hall said that news about the traditional medallion ceremony for 2020’s crop would come at a later date.