Alan Jackson, Don Schlitz and Jerry Reed are the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 were celebrated on Sunday evening (Oct. 22) during a private Medallion Ceremony held at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. For nearly three hours, the three inductees were welcomed by their peers, who performed several songs by each artist, as well as shared their musical journeys through video presentations and speeches.
The biggest surprise of the heartwarming evening was when Loretta Lynn, who suffered a stroke in May, walked out to the stage on George Strait’s arm to help induct longtime friend Alan Jackson. Her second public appearance since she performed on her ranch as part of the Tennessee Motorcycle and Music Revival earlier this month, the country legend joked that only Jackson could get her out of the house.
“Alan, I love you,” Lynn said at the podium on stage at the museum’s CMA Theater. “The first time I ever met Alan he was like a scared little boy. He was practicing backstage and I remember I said, ‘You’re going to be one of the greatest singers in country music.’ He hasn’t let me down. This is the first time I’ve been out of the house and you’re the only thing that would have brought me here. I love you, honey, and I want to say congratulations and I’m so proud of you. I’m glad that you’re being [inducted]. Hey, you should be here!”
Before Jackson walked on stage to be given his medallion from Lynn, she also let him know the power his music has had on her.
“At that bad time, 9/11, Alan sang ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).’ I cried all day long and I still cry when you sing it,” she added.
Jackson’s tribute included three performances by a list of A-list artists including George Strait, Alison Krauss and Lee Ann Womack who covered some of his biggest hits. Womack kicked off the set with a striking cover of Jackson’s first hit, “Here In the Real World,” while Krauss took the stage with her fiddle for the powerful No. 1 song “Someday” before King George closed with a commanding rendition of Jackson’s 2003 chart topper “Remember When.”
During the red carpet before the ceremony, Jackson told Sounds Like Nashville that he was “surprised and honored and felt unworthy” when he learned that he’d be the newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He said he’ll likely feel the same way during the Medallion Ceremony when his plaque was unveiled.
“I think I’ll be very flattered and at the time feel like it’s a dream and I’m not supposed to be here,” he confessed.
Other artists would beg to differ.
Charlie Daniels, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, raved about Jackson’s contributions to country music.
“He stayed true to the cause,” Daniels told SLN. “He keeps the country in country and we need some of that. This guy keeps us grounded and keeps our roots going. I have a great, great admiration for him and for Jerry Reed and Don Schlitz. I think this Class of 2017 is a really great class. You’ve got two of the best country artists and you’ve got one of the best songwriters.”
Later that evening a soft spoken Jackson took the stage to share his gratitude with those in attendance. Jackson’s acceptance speech was a heartfelt one that poked fun at himself (“I’m not really shy. I’m just socially awkward but mainly I don’t like to talk much”) and shared his appreciation for those who saw talent in him like Lynn, George Jones and his diehard fans.
“Loretta Lynn said I should be in here. That’s all I needed to hear . . . I do have some happy songs,” he said, alluding to the performance of three of his more serious songs earlier in the evening. “It makes me seem so sad and serious and I’m not that kind of person. But, my favorite songs are the heartbreak songs and they’re easier to write, most songwriters will tell you that. I love the sad songs, I’ve had a lot of hits with them.”
While he admitted that it was hard to get the labels interested in a traditional singer when he first moved to town, he added that he was grateful it took five years for a label to sign him because it gave him time to navigate Nashville and the music industry. He then thanked the “great people around me that have helped me find all this.”
“I just wanted to make country music and write songs and record songs that my fans would like. I appreciate them the most. To this day, we still have big crowds out there that see us. I see faces out there I’ve seen for 20 years. It’s hard to believe,” he marveled. “I just write and sing from my heart. Like I wrote in that song, I’m just a singer of simple songs.”
He added, “I love real country music. George Jones, he told me to keep it country and it stuck with me. I would have done it anyway but it meant so much coming from him. I hope that there’s going to be some young people coming along that really care as much about it as I have and try to keep it alive. It’s going to be hard today, you won’t hear it on the radio probably anymore [but] there’s still a lot of people, young and old, who want to hear what I call real country. I’m really proud and I don’t feel like I really belong here. I’m so humbled by it and will continue to try to make country music as long as I can.”
Songwriter Don Schlitz was also honored and inducted by his longtime friend, Vince Gill. Several artists paid tribute to his songs including Mary Chapin Carpenter who covered “When You Say Nothing At All,” Charlie Worsham with Jelly Roll Johnson, Fred Knoblock and Thom Schuyler for “Oscar the Angel,” and Aloe Blacc and Gill for a spirited performance of “The Gambler.”
“It’s so impressive to get to see you get in the Hall of Fame as a songwriter because you don’t have your face plastered on records and on billboards and TV,” Gill noted. “To accomplish this for writing songs is an amazing task and I’m so proud of you.”
Upon receiving his medallion and the unveiling of his plaque, Schlitz took to the podium to deliver an enlightening speech where he asked songwriters, artists, producers and those who helped to champion one of his songs to stand up. As he looked around the room to all those on their feet, he told the audience, “we celebrate each other.”
“This is what we call a circle. This is an unbroken circle. Each and every one of you have represented me, this is my turn to represent them. This honor is not for me alone, this is for all of us,” he shared. “No one does this alone. In your life, be part of something bigger than yourself. I’ve lived for 40 years within parenthesis. It has been a safe place to pursue the process of making up songs that my collaborators and I have wanted to hear. This is an honor beyond my comprehension. I remain overwhelmed and humbled and embarrassed but I’m proud. I’m proud to represent.”
The late Jerry Reed was also inducted and his daughters delivered a tearful speech honoring their father. Before the ceremony, each spoke with us, sharing that the induction was something they had wished for.
“We were hoping it would happen for him when he was still alive,” Seidina Hubbard confessed. “We know how he contributed to country music and the industry and Nashville. He was a great ambassador for country music. We’re so proud and so happy and it’s very emotional.”
Seidina and sister Lottie Zavala are both musicians and they shared some of the best advice their father bestowed on them: “Remember your roots. He would always tell me, ‘Do what you love and love what you do, no matter what it is,'” Zavala recalled.
Reed, Schlitz and Jackson were elected as the 131, 132 and 133 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The evening’s ceremony closed with a powerful performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” led by Connie Smith, Lynn, Strait and Jackson.