NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Is the Country Music Hall of Fame Fair?

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NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Is the Country Music Hall of Fame Fair?

Published on September 06, 2012 by CMT News

Nashville Skyline
(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

The annual roll call of
new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame has been a bone of spirited contention among both country fans and country artists
for many years. Everyone agrees there are a number of extremely worthy country artists who aren’t members of the Hall and
who should be.

And I can’t argue with that. But there are limits that should be imposed, and there are checks and
balances that should be respected.

My colleague and friend Peter Cooper recently wrote in a blog in The Tennessean
newspaper that he feels there should be what sounds to me like virtually an open door policy for inducting new Hall of Fame
members. As in “They Should All Be in the Country Music Hall of Fame,” according to The Tennessean headline.

Usually,
there are three new inductees honored every year. Occasionally, it has been one, two or four (depending on categories that
come up every few years). Cooper harks back to the year 2001, when 12 new members were inducted, as a sort of cattle stampede
to try to catch up with the overlooked candidates. Peter feels that hauling in 12 at once that year was good, but that even
12 is not enough new members every year.

I disagree.

The year of the 12 was like a panicky reaction to catch
up with and try to pacify all the then-current criticism of the electoral process. The only one of those 12 inductees that
comes to mind immediately is Waylon Jennings, and that’s because he
refused to acknowledge the honor and did not show up to receive the award (although he did turn up at the Palm restaurant,
just down the street from the Hall, that same week to see the new drawing of his face on the wall). Jennings felt, and I think
it’s a justifiable position, that music artists should not be put in a position of competing with each other.

Just
for the record, the other 11 inductees that year were the Everly Brothers,
Bill Anderson, the
Delmore Brothers
, Don Gibson, Homer
Jethro
, the Jordanaires, the
Louvin Brothers
, Webb Pierce and producers Sam Philips, Don Law, and
Ken Nelson. A pretty worthy bunch.

Formerly, the new inductees were prominently featured on the televised CMA Awards
show. Now, if they get a fleeting mention on the telecast, it’s unusual. You know, the demographics of TV don’t encourage
featuring old people. Instead, the new inductees are honored at an invitation-only ceremony at the Hall.

But shoe-horning
a whole truckload into the place every year can only lead to the cheapening and degrading of the honor. The Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame has unfortunately become, in many ways, a less than important institution. I thought it was a very good idea
in the beginning, and I have gladly served as a Rock Hall of Fame voter for many years. But there are many questionable inductees
amid a virtual glut of those being honored with membership. There was a total of 17 inductees last year. I think the sheer
numbers of inductees has lessened the honor and the status of being a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. Since it began installing
members in 1986, they’ve inducted 287 individual artists and groups, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Third-stringers
don’t make it into the football and baseball halls of fame. Why should it be any different for music?

The Rock Hall
has almost come to resemble an animal shelter, with numerous strays being brought in every year. By comparison, the Country
Music Hall of Fame has inducted 115 individuals and groups since 1961, and three more will be joining them this year. The
majority are white males. So, is the CMA voting process just an old white man’s club?

I am pretty much conversant with
the machinery and the process of how the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee process works. The Country Music Hall of Fame
has nothing to do with choosing new members. The election procedure actually is conducted by an anonymous committee of Country
Music Association members. I feel it is, as far as is possible, fair and impartial. It is not just a bunch of old white guys
voting their buddies into the place. It’s very much a serious and contemplative process, based on the legacy of the music
and the lasting influence.

When I look over this week’s Billboard charts of country songs and albums, I see
very few artists with even a slender, tiny chance of ever even being considered for a spot in the Country Hall. That’s one
reason that generally only three country inductees every year become Hall of Famers.

Ageism is part of the modern backlash
against traditionalism and basically against old white people. But I’ll tell you one thing: There would not be a Kenny
Chesney
or Keith Urban or Miranda
Lambert
or Carrie Underwood if it weren’t for the likes of Jimmie Rodgers and the
Carter Family
.

One prediction: Taylor Swift will be inducted
into the Country Music Hall of Fame as its youngest member ever. I think she will be inducted before Gram
Parsons
or Ray Charles or Johnny
Horton
or Dottie West will be — and I think all four of those artists
deserve to be there. Why? Because Taylor is more important to the country music machine and the country music world right
now than any of the other prospective candidates.

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