The Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most exclusive clubs in all of music. Situated in downtown Nashville, it comprises some of the most influential and legendary artists from the genre.
Only 127 artists occupy the Hall of Fame, which goes to show how rare an honor it is. Elected by the Country Music Association, up to three artists receive the designation per year. The process involves one “modern” artist (eligible 20 years after national prominence), one “veteran” artist (eligible 45 years after prominence) and one non-performer (which could be songwriter, producer, musician etc.).
Though in 2001, they had a massive induction of 12 artists. Perhaps they should consider another, because we’ve certainly got some suggestions.
Of course, like most hall of fames, the Country Music Hall of Fame consists largely of artists who blazed a trail in their own way. Few artists in the famed circle still routinely hit the road to entertain the masses. Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Garth Brooks pretty much make up the only inductees still regularly touring.
In fact, at 55, Brooks is the youngest member of the celebrated society. But you don’t have to be a superstar to be in the hall. You simply have to do something unavoidably impactful in the world of country music. And despite the number of amazing artists in the hall, there are a few who deserve that recognition.
Let’s take a look at 10 artists who deserve to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Of all the artists vying for a spot in the hall, Lewis may have both the best shot and raise the most eyebrows. Conventionally, Lewis was always kind of the anti-hero in country music. A rockabilly pioneer who famously rocked the Grand Ole Opry (completely ignoring its unspoken and spoken rules), Lewis doesn’t strike people as the prototypical country star. But just like Elvis or Ray Charles, his mark on the genre deserve serious merit. And in fact, Dale Watson started a petition to get the 81-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis inducted.
So far, the petition has the famous signatures of artists like Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Larry Gatlin and Charlie Sexton. If the CMA wants to earn major cool points by honoring the outside influence of legendary musicians, Jerry Lee Lewis is the man for the job.
As we covered awhile back, John Denver is every bit deserving of country music’s praise and respect as anyone else in the hall. Though some will forever associate him with the famous envelope-burning incident when he won the 1975 Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards, Denver’s deft optimism and lyrical poetry are more than deserving of country’s highest honor. He again shows how country saturates American culture in many different genres.
Honestly, Bobbie Gentry not being in the Country Music Hall of Fame is a real head scratcher. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that fewer than 20 women altogether are in the hall of fame, and that’s a serious problem. Perhaps it’s her awards in both country and pop, or her desire to no longer play music since the early 1980s. But Bobbie Gentry’s fierce, unique style captivated fans. She had four albums chart on the country charts, including two No. 1 albums. And her work with hall of fame member Glen Campbell essentially set the standard for future country duets.
Brooks & Dunn
Brooks & Dunn should be an earlier inductee into the hall of fame. They’ve been eligible since about 2010, but it can’t be long now. Besides the fact that the completely dominated the 1990s duo world, Brooks & Dunn earned serious respect among their peers and continue to be major players in the country music scene today. Oh, and their combined 43 CMA and ACM awards shouldn’t hurt, either.
Honestly, any songwriter should protest the hall of fame until Clark gets his rightful induction. Really, anybody at all. That’s it, we’re protesting. Because Guy Clark is the definition of country. And here’s the crazy thing — after his work in the 1970s helped establish outlaw and progressive country, he only got better. So many legendary artists recorded Clark’s songs, from Johnny Cash to modern hitmakers like Brad Paisley. Yet somehow, they were always just better when Guy sang them. You are missed, Guy.
Chalk this one up as another head scratcher. Dottie West ranks among the most important artists in country music, particularly for women during a time period when they were expected to play the back seat to men. Along with Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, West helped reshape the concept of what a successful female singer could and should sing about. A Facebook page calling for her induction has more than 18,000 likes.
If inducted within the next few years, Alison Krauss would be the youngest member by a mile. The 45-year-old bluegrass legend still has a lot of music left to make. But when you get famous around age 14, that tends to happen. Besides owning a staggering 27 Grammy Awards (tied for second-most ever), Krauss played a major roll in the rebirth of American bluegrass music. If Elvis gets to be in the hall, you’re darn tootin’ Alison Krauss should, too.
June Carter Cash
June Carter Cash deserves her own recognition in the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1970, The Carter Family singers were inducted, but only in the form of A.P Carter, Sara Carter and Maybelle Carter. June, meanwhile, is responsible for writing some of the best country songs of the time, not to mention her own beautiful solo and duo work and being a part of country music’s most endearing love story. And let’s be honest, without June Carter, Johnny Cash never would’ve made it out of the 1960s.
Though he died so young and tragically, Keith Whitley left an unmistakable mark on country music. In his four brief albums beginning in the mid-1980s, Whitley did the unthinkable and made it cool to be a sad country singer again. His voice and style felt counterintuitive to everything that was “in” at the time. And just ask any modern country artist if Whitley deserves a spot in the hall of fame to see his impact on modern country.
Honestly, Ray Benson could be in the Hall of Fame for any number of things. Sure, his work as frontman for Asleep at the Wheel (which has won 9 Grammy Awards) qualifies him. Benson may be one of the last true saviors of Western Swing. Or heck, how about his work as a producer, with artists like Dale Watson, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Aaron Watson and more. And his presence and effect on the world of country in Texas and beyond is formidable. He’s a towering presence in the world of country music both literally and figuratively.