Ten Songwriters Inducted Into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

The stars turned out to honor those behind their hits.

Written by Vernell Hackett
Ten Songwriters Inducted Into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
NaSHOF Board Chair Sarah Cates (left), Inductees Rhett Akins, Toby Keith, Buddy Cannon, Amy Grant and John Scott Sherrill and NaSHOF Executive Director Mark Ford.

Rhett Akins, Buddy Cannon, John Scott Sherrill, Toby Keith and Amy Grant, the class of 2021, were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on Monday (Nov. 1) at the Nashville Convention Center. They were joined by the members of the class of 2020 — Steve EarleBobbie GentryKent BlazyBrett James and Spooner Oldham — who were unable to have an induction ceremony last year due to the Covid pandemic. 

The evening is one of the most fun events of the year in the music industry, because you never know who is going to show up to honor the inductees. It was no different this year, as Carrie Underwood sang “Jesus Take The Wheel,” her first hit written by Brett James, while Garth Brooks followed with his first number one written with Kent Blazy, “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” Kenny Chesney honored his producer, Buddy Cannon, by singing “Set ‘Em Up, Joe,” which Cannon co-write with Vern Gosdin, Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon.

NaSHOF Board Chair Sarah Cates (left), inductees Brett James, Keny Blazy, Steve Earle, Spooner Oldham and NaSHOF Executive Director Mark Ford. Credit: Bev Moser

John Anderson sang John Scott Sherrill’s “Wild and Blue,” a major hit for him. Trisha Yearwood chose to sing “Ode to Billy Joe,” a hit by honoree Bobbie Gentry, who did not attend the ceremony. Thomas Rhett performed “That Ain’t My Truck,” a song that was a hit for his dad, Rhett Akins. Jason Isbell sang Spooner Oldham’s “I’m Your Puppet.” Steve Earle was honored by Emmylou Harris, who sang his song, “Pilgrim.” And Vince Gill honored Amy Grant, who is his wife, singing “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).”

Akins talked about writing hits for his son, Thomas Rhett. “It is one of biggest honors I’ve ever had, to write songs for my son, but it is also one of the most nerve-wracking experiences ever,” he told the audience. “You feel like his career is on line because you wrote the song. I’m always nervous when he puts one out I wrote, or we wrote together, and I’m thinking ‘Please don’t let me be the one to kill his career.’ It’s great when you get to do it but it’s also nerve wrecking.”

Carrie Underwood performs to honor the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and 2021. Credit: Bev Moser

Akins went on to talk about his description of a great song. “I feel like the best songs are the ones that can be played with just a guitar or piano. If you’ve got to have the drums and bells and whistles on it to sound like a hit, it might be a hit but not a great song. You’ve got to be able to sit down on the couch and play it — that is proof to me that it’s a well-written song.”

Although Akins has chalked up awards, including BMI Song of the Year in 2011 and 2014, and was the Academy of Country Music’s Songwriter of the Decade in 2019, he admits, “I can’t tell if that puts more pressure on me to do better or if I can take it easy. My co-writers tease me all the time, saying ‘You are songwriter of the decade so you tell us how it goes.’ I’m like, ‘That was last decade!’

Thomas Rhett and Rhett Akins at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Credit: Bev Moser

“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame means everything to me, I grew up idolizing Hank Sr., Hank Jr., Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Dean Dillon, Hank Cochran, Buddy Cannon. I sat in my bedroom with my guitar and moved that needle back on that record millions of times trying to figure out how to play the song and learn how they did it. I’m honored that Nashville felt I was worthy of being in the same shadow of those people. I don’t take this lightly at all. I’ve been dreaming about following in their footsteps for a long time and thank God I’m here.”

Grant is considered a major player in Contemporary Christian music, with the first Platinum-selling album in that genre with her 1982 album, Age to Age. She recalls where it all started for her. “I guess in the mid-’80s there was not a lot of radio that did contemporary faith music,” she said. “I was in my 20s and there was a great grassroots build up, and so to me that was the turning point, it was like just a grassroots spread of my music. I’m thinking about right before I singed with A&M Records, I was playing The Forum in Los Angeles and some people from the record company came to see me. They were looking around at all the people who were there, asking ‘Where did all these people come from?’ For those of us who have toured consistently year after year, you find people who love your music and they will support you.”

Amy Grant at her Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction. Credit: Bev Moser

Grant also remembers the time when she was really influenced by the music she would become known for. “I love all kinds of music but I was really influenced by this kind of music because there was a book and record store/coffee shop on 16th Avenue in Nashville called Koinonia, and every Saturday night from the mid-’70s to late ’70s, they had band that played there called Dogwood,” she said. “I was part of that church, I loved their music, and it was a great place to be on Saturday night. That was first place I heard live music with people singing about faith. It’s so funny, I think about those days, one of the guys in the band was Steve Chapman, his son Nathan was on one of my early records when he was in diapers. All of us used to go to that coffee shop on Saturday nights and it was faith music. I love all kinds of music but I felt compelled to write that because not as many people were writing it. It was so many years ago, we went to that coffee shop for years, and it was then that I broadened my writing.”

Grant has several writers who have become great co-writers for her, including Michael W. Smith, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Chris Eaton. “I’m not someone who writes every day. There are some songwriters here who write five days a week, non-stop writing, but I’m not like that, I’m not that prolific a writer,” she went on. “I think about co-writing as an invitation for meaningful conversation. To get below all the small talk, you talk until something moves you in some way, makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you go ‘Hmmm, yeah.’ To me that is the gift of great co-writers, it’s friendship but a friendship that has so much creativity that’s part of it and all those songs written together mark different days in your life, like a sonic snapshot.”

John Scott Sherrill remembers the definitive moment he felt he had become a songwriter. “When Patty Loveless cut ‘Nothing But The Wheel’ I knew that was a good big moment. And then when Peter Wolf and Mick Jagger cut the same song a few years later and I thought, ‘That’s a real treat for me and I’m enjoying this right now.’ That was really exciting.”

Kenny Chesney honors Buddy Cannon at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Credit: Bev Moser

As for his induction into the Hall of Fame, Sherrill says, “It’s kind of more exciting than I can believe. I look at the list of members and I can’t believe I am included in that company,” he said.

When Cannon came to Nashville, his sole thought was to be a great musician. “I had no thoughts of being a songwriter, I loved playing music, and that was what I focused on,” he explained. “I just wanted to play in the best band I could play in. I was in Bob Luman’s band, and I just started writing songs with a couple guys in the band to pass time on the bus. I didn’t know if what I was writing was any good. Bob actually recorded two songs that I wrote with Steve Smith, our guitar player, and I didn’t think much of that either. Looking back I guess it was a pretty big deal. Eventually my songs found their way to Mel Tillis who saw value in them, and he started recording my songs. He signed me to a publishing deal and I was with him for 12 years until he sold the publishing company.”

Founded in 1970, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame has recognized more than 200 writers from all genres including Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Hank Williams Sr., Guy Clark, Gene Autry, Charlie Black, Rory Bourke, Albert Brumley, Hoagy Carmichael, Jack Clement, Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis, Larry Gatlin, Tom T. Hall, Dickey Lee, Jim McBride, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbitt, Jimmie Rodgers, Thom Schuyler, Earl Scruggs, Shel Silverstein, Even Stevens and Cindy Walker.