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Sunday, 6 July, 2008 7:43 PM

CMA Inducts Emmylou Harris and Pop Stoneman into Hall of Fame

Photo by John Russell / CMA

CMA CEO Tammy Genovese congratulates Hall of Fame inductee Emmylou Harris.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2008 CMA Close Up News Service

The inductions on April 27 of Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman and Emmylou Harris into the Country Music Hall of Fame began with the people and ended with a vision of timelessness.

On this cool, sun-splashed Sunday afternoon, lovers of Country Music gathered outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Downtown Nashville. Running up the steps in the shade of a long white awning, a red carpet guided the gathering dignitaries toward the reception inside.

Harris arrived with manager Ken Levitan of Vector Management. Her appearance, blending beauty, elegance and Western aesthetic, was a metaphor for her music, whose grace in turn mirrored the patience she showed in greeting members of the press, giving each so much of her attention that it took her more than half an hour to make her way into the building.

Three of Pop Stoneman's daughters - Patsy, Roni and Donna - emerged from a limousine and stood together in an explosion of camera flashes, smiling radiantly, proud and bound by faith in their father's legacy. Sons and daughters, children and grandchildren, joined them inside - six generations in all, according to Randy Stoneman, son of the late Van Stoneman and one of Pop's grandsons.

For a couple of hours, festive conversation, accompanied discretely by the recorded strains of Chet Atkins' guitar, filled the Museum's lobby. Shortly after 7 PM, the lights dimmed and many of the attendees moved into the intimate 213-seat Ford Theater to witness another night of history being made.

The front row was reserved for inductees and special guests, including Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers, who will follow Harris and Stoneman into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony June 29. The atmosphere was alive with the mix of solemnity and celebration that's unique to this occasion.

Yet each Medallion and Induction Ceremony is unlike any other, given the contributions of the inductees.
On this evening, a recorded performance by steel guitarist Aubrey Ghent, an ecstatic "sacred steel" rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," fanned the heat of anticipation before Kyle Young, Director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, stepped forward and delivered his opening remarks.

"Over the course of 10 years, the Museum has presented 12 Medallion Ceremonies," he said. "Music, storytelling, fellowship and the presentation of a keepsake medal were the hallmarks of those celebrations. Last year, at the invitation of CMA, we were honored to see the Medallion Ceremony become the official rite of induction for new members."

Following witty yet respectful reflections from business leader and arts activist Steve Turner, who recently succeeded E. W. "Bud" Wendell as Chairman of the Museum, Vince Gill provided a haunting benediction with the hymn "Drifting Too Far From the Shore," which he recalled singing in 1981 with Harris at Red Rocks, Colo., shortly after the death of his grandfather.

Tammy Genovese, CMA CEO, remembered her conversation with Harris prior to the public announcement in February of the new Hall of Fame members chosen by CMA's anonymous panel of electors. "She captured the essence of the moment in one word: spiritual," she said. "It was clear in that one moment, in that one word, why she has been revered for preserving Country Music's past while expanding Country Music's horizons."

Noting as well the importance of Stoneman and the "transparent joy" that his family displayed at news of his election, Genovese yielded the podium back to Young, who acknowledged the musical and community luminaries in the audience before beginning his tribute to Stoneman, who enters the Hall of Fame through the category of "Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II."

The next few hours flowed as a stream of prepared and impromptu comments and unforgettable performances. In the segment dedicated to Stoneman, some of Pop's favorite tunes were given loving interpretations.

Old Crow Medicine Show began with a stylistically authentic rendition of "Tell Mother I Will Meet Her." Cowboy Jack Clement joined the Medallion All-Star Band featuring Eddie Bayers, Paul Franklin, Tania Hancheroff, Wes Hightower, John Hobbs, Brent Mason, Michael Rhodes, Deanie Richardson and Biff Watson in a foot-tapping version of "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues" that inspired Roni to enthusiastically conduct and, on the last chorus, leap to her feet and clap along to the beat.

Joining with The Jordanaires, Jim Lauderdale recalled watching "Those Stonemans," the television series that The Stoneman Family had hosted in the mid '60s. "I just couldn't take my eyes off of these beautiful women that were playing so masterfully," he said, as Pop's daughters beamed back at him. "And there was such a dignified gentleman onstage, your dad. . He just looked like the happiest man in the world, and I know how proud he was of y'all and how joyful he felt to be able to hear you play and to make music with you, his children."

As breathtaking as their performance was of "Are You Washed in the Blood," the emotional peak came when the Stoneman sisters took to the stage - Donna on mandolin, Patsy on autoharp and Roni on banjo - with Clement and bassist Stu Geisbert. Assisted by Gill to her seat, Patsy, the eldest of the three, held the spotlight, with the vigor of her playing on autoharp and the feisty spirit of her speech. "I guess you can see that I need help getting around," she began. "But I want to tell you something: You don't grow old because you play music. You grow old because you stop playing music. And I ain't gonna quit!"

Their reading of their father's immortal song "The Titanic" triggered a long ovation. The music was equally moving as other artists extolled Harris for her induction into the category for "Career Achieving National Prominence Between 1975 and the Present." It began with a stunning version of The Everly Brothers classic "Love Hurts," later recorded by Harris, in which Patty Griffin harmonized with Buddy Miller. (In the audience, as the last chord rang through the deep tremolo of Miller's electric guitar, Marty Stuart laughed with delight, exclaimed "what a song!" and reached over to shake the hand of Phil Everly.)

Guy Clark, with a vocal timbre as scuffed and comfortable as his shoes, performed "Bang the Drum Slowly," which he had written with Harris in memory of her father. ("I must confess, I don't think I wrote any of it," he said. "I sat there and listened to Emmy come up with these lines and verses, and I was like 'Yes! Yes!' I was the cheerleader for this song.")

Lucinda Williams, her voice a weathered and eloquent vessel, sang "Boulder to Birmingham," her eyes closed, swaying gently in communion to the music.

And when Griffin, Gill, Miller, Sam Bush and Jon Randall joined their voices on "Green Pastures," the sound wafted through the room like love borne on a gentle breeze.

All of which prefaced the moments of induction, the first when Frances Preston, former President/CEO of BMI, presented the Medallion to Patsy on her father's behalf. Deeply affected, her voice quivering, Patsy whispered, "I didn't think I'd ever get to wear that." Not missing a beat, her sister Roni added, with a laugh, "It's my turn now!"

Later, after thanking Harris for "introducing new generations of fans to Louvin Brothers music" on her early albums, Charlie Louvin brought her forward to receive her Medallion. While admitting to not having "the good sense to appreciate" Country Music as a teenager, Harris credited the Johnny Cash album Bitter Tears and the late Gram Parsons for enlightening her on its power and beauty. But the moment that stirred the greatest laughter and applause came when, on impulse, she smiled toward the front row and proclaimed, "Patsy Stoneman, you are the bomb!"

From the roots represented by Stoneman to the innovations introduced through the work of Harris, the circle once again closed, unbroken, as the assembled Hall of Fame members took to the stage. Everly and Ralph Emery, their arms around each other's shoulders, Little Jimmy Dickens snapping his finger and smiling, Gill clapping his hands over his head in the back row, and Jim Foglesong, Louvin, Preston, Earl Scruggs, Jo Walker-Meador and The Jordanaires' Louis Nunley, Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker and Curtis Young all joined in singing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," knowing that like the music it evokes, it will surely endure.

The event was taped for future broadcast by the Great American Country (GAC) cable network and WSM-AM 650.


Photo by John Russell / CMA

Patsy Stoneman Murphy accepts her father, V. "Pop" Stoneman's medallion. is Detroit's exclusive media outlet for this syndicated weekly column!



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