It took 57 years from the release of his first single for Hank Williams Jr. to become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. His induction speech took less than two minutes.
Williams, an avid hunter, opened by celebrating the start of deer season. He said the many people to thank “know who they are,” and closed by referencing several of his classic songs.
“All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight. I was born to boogie, and this –”
He turned to point at his just-unveiled plaque, which will now hang in the museum’s famed rotunda.
“…is a ‘Family Tradition.’”
Williams, country torchbearer Marty Stuart and master songwriter Dean Dillon were all inducted Sunday during the Hall of Fame’s annual Medallion Ceremony.
Along with their songs, the CMA Theater was often filled with a sharp sense of gratitude: not just for the inductees and the institution, but for the opportunity to gather for another ceremony at all.
Williams, Stuart and Dillon, in fact, are the hall’s 2020 class, and were first revealed more than a year ago. Due to the pandemic, their ceremony was put on hold for more than a year, and a recently unveiled 2021 class is right on their heels. But Sunday’s parade of tributes from friends and superstars ensured it was worth the wait.
Marty Stuart: ‘My life was set’
Marty Stuart’s brilliance, in part, is fueled by his ceaseless reverence for country music’s most legendary figures. On Sunday, he officially took his place alongside them.
Born Sept. 30, 1958, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Stuart was covering country music with his band by the time he was nine. In the midst of pop’s “British Invasion,” he said he felt like the country stars of that era “needed a correspondent” in his town.
“I still feel like I’m a correspondent for Hank Sr., and Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash and the culture of country music, because it’s what I love.”
He began picking professionally at age 12, joining the Sullivan Family bluegrass band for a summer tour in 1972, and it wasn’t long before he began living out all of his country music dreams, piece by piece.
The first two records he ever owned, he said, were by Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, and they later became the two artists who hired him for their bands. He saw country star Connie Smith in his hometown at age 11, and he told his mother he was going to marry her.
On Sunday, Smith, Stuart’s wife of 24 years, tearfully inducted her husband into the Hall of Fame.
“My life was set,” he said. “It was just a matter of growing into it.”
Stuart’s celebrated journey – from a beyond-his-years talent to traditionalist star, fiercely independent artist and ambassador – was reflected in his tributes.
Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young called Stuart “a flame-keeper, a spokesman and a chief,” and noted that he wasn’t just being inducted for his hit-making years, but the crucial work he’s done throughout the 21st century.
Friend and collaborator Pastor Evelyn Hubbard of Mississippi sang “It’s Time to Go Home,” from Stuart’s 2005 gospel album “Souls’ Chapel.” Emmylou Harris and Charlie Worsham lent Everlys-esque harmonies to “Tempted,” his highest charting solo single.
Ashley McBryde delivered an inspired rendition of “The Observations of a Crow,” a standout from his 1999 landmark album “The Pilgrim.”
“Anybody that knows me knows that I love this building,” Stuart said after seeing his plaque. “I got to be a part of it coming up out of the ground, just a small part of it. But this is our living room. This is our spiritual home. This is our treasure chest. And this is where we belong. God has had his hand on this place.”