Brooks & Dunn, Ray Stevens and Jerry Bradley were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame Sunday night at CMA Theater.
Comedic country singer Ray Stevens set the tone for the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2019 Medallion Ceremony Sunday when he said: “This is Nashville. Anything can happen.”
For four men, anything – and everything – did happen.
Stevens moved to Nashville in the early ‘60s to play piano in recording sessions. He collaborated with record producers Jerry Kennedy and Shelby Singleton before he went to work at Monument Records in 1968. While there, Fred Foster asked him to produce “a new girl” named Dolly Parton. Stevens was behind Parton’s early songs, including “Don’t Drop Out” and “Busy Signal,” which he wrote specifically for her.
Stevens was a stand-in Jordanaire. He sang harmony — the high tenor part — on one of Waylon Jennings’ early albums. The pianist arranged strings for Bobby Bare and befriended Chet Atkins, who wrote some of Stevens’ songs. Stevens played on records for hundreds of artists ranging from Elvis Presley and Charlie Rich to Brenda Lee and Patti Page.
He launched a five-decade career for himself as a professional hitmaker in 1969 with his Top 10 pop song “Gitarzan.” He followed it a few months later with Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” and kept the success flowing with “The Streak,” “Misty,” “Ahab the Arab,” “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” and “Everything Is Beautiful” among others.
Sunday night artists including Ricky Skaggs and the McCrary Sisters paid tribute to Stevens with performances. Skaggs put an inspired bluegrass spin on “Misty” and joked that he really wanted to sing “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” but no one would let him. The McCrary Sisters, who sang on the original recording of “Everything is Beautiful,” delivered a soulful, gospel version of the song that moved Stevens to tears on the front row. Veteran country music personality Ralph Emery inducted Stevens, hanging the gold medallion suspended from a thick, black ribbon around the singer’s neck.