Wynonna Judd, Vince Gill, Brandi Carlile and Bob Seger offer surprise tribute performances at the invitation-only Nashville ceremony
Tanya Tucker was just 9 years old when her manager father took her to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, pointed to the performers onstage and asked her, “Now don’t you wish you were up there doing it instead of sitting down here watching it?”
From that moment on, the country legend told an adoring crowd at her Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 22, “I’ve never been a good audience member, and I haven’t been very good today.”
But then, who could blame the 65-year-old Tucker for earlier jumping onto the CMA Theater stage to join not one, but two of her tribute performances? No doubt she had a lot of pent-up excitement to work off after years in limbo on the Hall of Fame short list.
“Thank you for not giving up on me,” she said, opening a 15-minute acceptance speech that radiated her trademark warmth, humor and candor.
Tucker, fellow vocal powerhouse Patty Loveless and songwriter Bob McDill make up this year’s Hall of Fame class, bringing its hallowed number to 152. Each of the three recipients enjoyed almost a full hour of career review and tribute performances at the invitation-only Nashville event.
Just four years after that first fateful Nashville visit, Tucker launched her recording career at age 13 with what became her signature song, “Delta Dawn,” and she soon settled into a home on the charts for the next two decades with such hits as “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” “Just Another Love” and “Strong Enough to Bend.” But as she enjoyed one of country’s most enduring careers, her maverick lifestyle also earned her tabloid headlines — a fact she didn’t ignore in her remarks.
“I've had a lot of ups and downs,” she said, adding affably, “Mine were mostly in the news.”
In recent years, Tucker has experienced a career resurgence, earning her first Grammy awards, for best country album and best country song, in 2019, with While I’m Livin’, her first album of original material in 17 years. It was co-produced by Shooter Jennings (son of country outlaws Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter) and Americana superstar Brandi Carlile, and Tucker made sure to thank the two, whom, she said, “brought me back from the dead.”
“I was really gigging,” she said, “but my career was pretty much in the hole. Thank you for just digging me up and carrying on and helping me to make another statement. I've come back so many times, I don't know ... I'm gonna come back again after I'm dead!”
Tucker selected two friends and mentors, Hall of Fame members Connie Smith and Brenda Lee, to induct her.
Another child star, Lee, 78, praised Tucker for being “one of the few people in this industry doing what we do that have stayed real. You stated your case. You said, ‘I'm gonna do what I want to do, want to sing how I want to sing. If you don't like it, don't listen.’ … And she was one of the first in this town that was brave enough to say that.”
The identities of the ceremony’s tribute performers are always a closely guarded secret, and Wynonna Judd was the first to surprise Tucker, offering up a stirring rendition of “Delta Dawn.” Master musician and Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy, who appeared on the original recording, also was featured on the harmonica.
Somehow the guest of honor, who joined Judd on three dates of her recent tour, managed to stay in her front-row seat during the song, but the next performance proved too tempting, and she shimmied onstage for the last chorus of Jessi Colter and Margo Price's boisterous “It’s a Little Too Late.”
Carlile then turned up for a solemn “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane,” a story song that Tucker has always considered a tribute to her father, who was her longtime manager, and her mother. Once again, the stage proved too irresistible for the honoree, and Carlile shared her microphone on the penultimate line, “The world says they’ll never make it,” then generously offered Tucker the poignant final words, “Love says they will.”
Earlier, in her introduction, Carlile, 42, thanked her hero: “You’ve carved out an ass-kicking path for every tough little girl … You carved out that path for me, and I’m never gonna stop trying to make it up to you. I'm gonna be able to sleep tonight because I just watched Tanya Tucker be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
The 66-year-old Loveless selected close friend, longtime collaborator and Hall of Famer Vince Gill to usher her into country’s most exclusive membership, and he praised her for possessing “maybe the most authentic voice I’ve ever heard.”
The two have frequently offered studio support to each other over the years — including on Gill’s first major hit, “When I Call Your Name” — and Gill, 66, called Loveless “the little sister I always wanted to sing with. That's what I hear in her voice — that blood harmony that I yearned for my whole life. That's what we sound like together.”
Gill also turned in a touching tribute performance of Loveless’ 1996 chart-topper, “Lonely Too Long.” In her remarks, Loveless noted that “he always told me it was a favorite song of his, and to hear him do it, Vince, I think you should cut that, too!”
Loveless’ tribute performances provided what surely was the biggest surprise guest of the evening: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bob Seger. His history with Loveless includes flying to her Georgia home to capture her voice on his 2004 release, “The Answer’s in the Question.” On Sunday, he offered a soulful performance of Loveless’ 1997 hit “She Drew a Broken Heart.”
Bluegrass group Sister Sadie, which includes Loveless’ longtime fiddler, Deanie Richardson, rounded out the tribute performances with the Loveless-penned “Sounds of Loneliness.”
In her speech, Loveless thanked the friends, family and industry associates who had gathered to honor her, but she lingered on an absence: her beloved brother, Roger Ramey, who died in 2022, not knowing of her lifetime honor. A musician seven years her senior, he nudged his shy little sister onto the stage when she was just 12 years old, and he also served as her manager during her formative years.
“This was always a dream of ours as young kids coming to Nashville,” she said, “and when I would walk through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, when we were hanging out in Nashville, it just felt so comforting to walk among those [plaques] — and to be a part of that now, it truly is an honor.”
From 1988 to 2003, Loveless released 34 top 40 singles; her No. 1 singles include “Timber I’m Falling in Love,” “Chains” and “Blame It on Your Heart.” She won CMA album of the year in 1995 and female vocalist of the year in 1996. In 2001, she expanded her career to bluegrass, and she won a Grammy for best bluegrass album in 2011.
Bob McDill chose friend and fellow songwriter Don Schlitz to welcome him into the Hall of Fame for penning such classics as Don Williams’ “Amanda,” Keith Whitley's “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and Alan Jackson's “Gone Country.” Though already a Hall of Fame member himself, Schlitz made clear he was honoring his mentor and “hero.”
“For my friends and me, Bob McDill is who we wanted to be,” said Schlitz, 71, who wrote “The Gambler” and co-wrote “Forever and Ever, Amen,” among many hits. “We tried to be like him.”
McDill, 79, pointed out that he is only the eighth non-performing songwriter to enter the Hall of Fame, “and I think it speaks very well of how to go beyond the sparkle and glitter of our business and to include these writers in the Hall of Fame.”
Country traditionalist Charley Crockett offered the first tribute performance to McDill, singing Mel McDaniel’s top 10 hit from 1981, “Louisiana Saturday Night.” Then Hall of Fame songwriter Dean Dillon sang “All the Good Ones Are Gone,” a hit for Pam Tillis in 1997. Finally, Jamey Johnson delivered McDill’s autobiographical “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” which Don Williams turned into a classic in 1980.
No artist more than Williams is associated with McDill; over his Hall of Fame career, Williams released more than a dozen McDill songs as singles, and four topped the charts. Other Hall of Fame artists McDill wrote for include Ronnie Milsap, Bobby Bare, and Alabama. During one week in 1985, McDill had songwriting credits on four of the top eight singles.
In his introduction, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young noted that “Bob was so consistently on the money that folks on Music Row used to joke that [performance rights organization] BMI stood for ‘Bob McDill Incorporated.’”
Besides songwriting, McDill also screened songs by other writers for his publishing company, though, he confessed, not always with the most discerning ear. In his speech, he relished telling a story on himself about a Schlitz visit to his office back in the 1970s.
“He said I've really got one this time ... and he was very excited,” McDill recalled, “and he started into the song: ‘You've got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.’ And he got finished with that, and he said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Eh, what else you got?’”
“Some publisher, hunh?” McDill exclaimed to raucous laughter.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.