Founded in 2002 next to the historic Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Mount Vernon, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum honors and preserves the remarkable legacy of the state's homegrown music that includes everyone from Loretta Lynn to Bill Monroe, J.D. Crowe, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Patty Loveless, Keith Whitley and over 50 others (and counting).
On the evening of Friday, Oct. 28 the Hall welcomed seven new members led by 32 year old country phenom Carly Pearce, whose induction marked one of the Hall's first new members still in the prime of their careers. Born just south of Cincinnati in Taylor Mill, the reigning CMA Awards' Female Vocalist of the Year and ACM Awards' Female Artist of the Year, couldn't help but go out of her way to thank her parents and other family for the sacrifices they'd made to help get her to where she is today.
"[My grandparents] didn't get to see any of this happen for me, but what's so special is I remember telling my grandpa that one day I'd make it and he and my grandma both believed it," Pearce said during her induction speech. "Pearce is not my legal last name but it is my mom and grandparent's maiden name. To watch the dreams that they and my entire family had for me coming to fruition with the Pearce name lit up bright and at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is so amazing."
Prior to her speech Pearce was introduced by another Hall of Famer in Ricky Skaggs (pictured below) before performing two of her biggest hits to date — the Loretta Lynn tribute "Dear Miss Loretta" and "I Hope You're Happy Now," a duet with Lee Brice which won multiple CMA and ACM awards in 2020 — that each helped to bring her journey from Taylor Mill to the Hall of Fame full circle. As someone who's always dreamt of being one of the best country singers to ever come out of Kentucky, Pearce has long idolized compatriots like Lynn, who passed away in her sleep earlier this month at 90 years old (Lynn, Naomi Judd, J.D. Crowe, Tom T. Hall, Don Everly and other Hall of Fame Kentuckians who have died since the last induction ceremony in 2018 were honored Friday during an "In Memoriam" segment).
During the induction's pre-show red carpet festivities Pearce reflected on Lynn and the imprint she's had on her own career.
"Loretta was one of the first female voices I heard as a kid," Pearce said. "To me she's the greatest trailblazer that we've had as a female songwriter and artist. She paved the way for so many people to unapologetically write their story. As I went into my album 29 I thought a lot about her and moments where she pushed the boundaries for women when it came to what we were allowed to write about and what was appropriate for a polished woman in the music industry. I think she'll continue doing that for every generation moving forward, but I also think it's important for me now as a part of the last generation to continue her living legacy to do what I can to keep her spirit alive."
Prior to Pearce's induction, the evening's most electrifying moment came during the induction of Lexington based blues legend Tee Dee Young. Born in 1964 in the city's Pralltown community, Young quickly fell under the influence of local blues and jug bands that performed on front porches along the nearby railroad tracks. As a teenager he became leader of his own band and was soon opening for the likes of The Jackson 5 and taking his music to bars and esteemed venues around the country.
Since then he's gone on to earn titles such as the Beale Street Blues King by the Beale Street Merchants Association and Kentucky Colonel by the state of Kentucky. He's so revered in his hometown that the Lexington Music Awards have renamed their best in blues award the TeeDee Young Blues Excellence Award. The city also officially celebrates Tee Dee Young day annually on Sept. 13.
During the ceremony Young dazzled those in attendance with a bluesy rendition of The Beatles' "Yesterday" and epic breakdown on original "Bye Bye Baby," showing that Kentucky music is just as much about the blues as it is bluegrass. During a phone call earlier in the week, Young reflected on his journey from the porches of Pralltown to being enshrined in his home state's Hall of Fame.
"I'm incredibly blessed to have learned from folks like Mr. Harrison, Mr. Marvin and others over in Pralltown," said Young. "They've helped to shape me into the performer I am today, and I'm honored to carry on their spirit in my music. My hope is that my induction will help inspire young Kentuckians to embrace the blues, helping to preserve and keep the flame alive for generations to come."
Aside from Pearce and Young, another top moment from the ceremony came with the induction of Marty Brown. The Maceo-born artist is most famously known for writing "I'm From The Country," a country banger that became a hit for Tracy Byrd in 1998 that peaked at No. 3 on the charts and spent 17 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, in addition to his 2013 cover of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" during auditions for NBC's America's Got Talent that has racked up over 25 million views online.
Brown performed both songs during his induction, bringing the crowd to their feet as they celebrated an artist who, like them, is a country boy at heart. Much like Pearce, Brown says he wouldn't be where he is today without his parents. He credited his mother, who was in attendance for his induction, for helping to hone his music into the perfect length for radio by telling him to write songs that would be done in the three minutes it took her to heat up her coffee in the microwave when he was young, in addition to his father encouraging him to pick up the guitar.
"My dad showed me my first chord on guitar before I eventually went on to become his rhythm man when he still had ambitions himself of being a country star," says Brown. "He had such a drive about him. I remember on days he was off from work I'd follow him around the house listening to him play as my own strumming made my arm feel like it was gonna fall off. I've always wanted to be like him, so being recognized in this way by the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is a huge honor."
Also among the inductees were two longtime members of the Grand Ole Opry band, vocalist Norah Lee Allen (pictured above with Connie Smith) and pedal steel ace Tommy White. For White, who credits everyone from Buddy Emmons to Paul Franklin, Weldon Myrick, Russ Hicks, Curly Chalker and his father as inspiration, he considers his Hall of Fame installation as a lifetime achievement award of sorts that he's very humbled by.
"This isn't something that happens to backing musicians a lot, so it's very special for me as a side man to be honored by my home state's Hall of Fame," White said on the red carpet.
Of the seven new Hall of Famers, two — Paul Yandell and Pete Goble — were inducted posthumously. Speaking and performing Friday on behalf of Yandell was 2011 Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee Steve Wariner. Bandmates together for years with Chet Atkins, Wariner called Yandell one of his biggest mentors in both music and life that he's tickled to celebrate even though he wishes the recognition had come sooner.
"I like to think that he's smiling and watching down from heaven on all of us here tonight," Wariner said on the red carpet. "Even though this didn't happen when he was alive I'm so glad it's taking place now, because I've never seen somebody who loves his family and hometown (of Mayfield) as much as Paul did."
Other awards distributed during the ceremony included the Karl Shannon Legacy Award, named for the man whose voice was synonymous with country music radio in Kentucky for generations prior to his untimely death earlier this year. The Award celebrates those following in Shannon's footsteps and in this, its first year, honored fellow radio host Jack Pattie, who this year celebrated 46 years with WVLK in Lexington. Pattie was on site to accept the award presented jointly by the Shannon family and Jessica Blankenship, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum's executive director.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 2590 Richmond Street in Mount Vernon and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information visit KentuckyMusicHallOfFame.com.
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