On March 27, the Country Music Association will elect one new member/act to the Country Music Hall of Fame in each of its three categories: Modern Era, Veteran Era and Songwriter/Musician/Non-Performer (this category rotates, and this year a musician will be elected).
Let’s take a look at the Modern Era candidates, who are eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence.”
While there are several candidates who could also be considered in the Veteran Era (40 years after achieving national prominence), the pool of possible Modern Era candidates includes, among others, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, David Allan Coe, Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, Faith Hill, The Judds, Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Charlie Rich, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Shania Twain, Gene Watson, Keith Whitley, Hank Williams Jr. and Dwight Yoakam.
While all of the aforementioned names are deserving candidates, here are four of the leading nominees—in my opinion.
Singer, songwriter, musician, actor—Dwight Yoakam is a man of many hats in the figurative sense, but you probably recognize him from the low-tilted Stetson that frequents his dome. Underneath that cowboy hat is undeniable genius. For the last 30 years, Dwight has been swiveling his talented hips across the U.S. of A. with a distinctive croon that’s unmatched in the genre.
Along the way, Dwight has sold more than 11.5 million U.S. units, according to the RIAA, and earned seven platinum albums, including the triple-platinum This Time. Five of those albums have topped Billboard’s Country Albums chart as well as two Billboard No. 1 singles (“Streets of Bakersfield” and “I Sang Dixie”). In addition, Dwight has been nominated for 21 Grammy awards, winning two during his illustrious career.
More impressive than all of his accolades, Dwight was a pioneer in the area of country rock. Dwight mixed his Kentucky country roots with touches of Bakersfield and punk rock to create a new kind of country music, one that found its way to a younger—and definitely hip—audience. Toss in his movie and television roles and you have the definition of a diversified entertainer. Speaking of diversification, in 2016 Dwight added another genre-crossing album to his repertoire with Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, a collection of tunes from his past catalog that were reinvented as bluegrass ditties.
Plus, Johnny Cash called Dwight his favorite modern country artist. That’s not something you put on your Hall of Fame plaque—that’s something you put on your tombstone.
Hank Williams Jr.
First of all, can you believe Hank Williams Jr. is NOT in the Country Music Hall of Fame? That, itself, is a travesty. But let’s get down to brass tacks, because 2018 could be the year Rockin’ Randall carries on the family tradition (his daddy was inducted in 1961).
Hank Jr. has released 37 albums over his six-decade career, selling more than 19.5 million units in the U.S., according to the RIAA. In addition to his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Jr. has topped the charts with 13 singles and has thrice been named the ACM Entertainer of the Year and twice the CMA Entertained of the Year. Add eight platinum albums, 15 gold albums and a Grammy to his résumé, and you’ve got badass Bocephus who was a pioneer in bringing arena rock productions to country music with epic songs like “Family Tradition,” “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” and “A Country Boy Can Survive.”
Brooks & Dunn
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn are the best-selling duo in country music history with 27.5 million U.S. units sold, according to the RIAA. Let that sink in for a minute
With their high-energy live show, they broke out of the box like a bull from the bucking chute, earning four No. 1 singles in a row starting with “Brand New Man” in 1991. They remained in the Top 10, with very few exceptions, until their final release as a duo in 2009.
With their 11 platinum albums, they have amassed more than 80 industry awards, including two Grammy, 20 CMAs and 27 ACMs, making them the most-awarded act in ACM history. They have been named Entertainer of the Year four times collectively by the ACM and CMA.
Shania Twain remains the first and only female artist in history to have three consecutive albums certified diamond by the RIAA for sales of more than 10 million units each. “The Queen of Country Pop,” a title she definitely deserved to call her own, earned five Grammys, four ACMs and two CMAs, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With 48 million U.S. units sold, Shania is the top-selling female artist in country music history, trailing only George Strait and Garth Brooks on the all-time country list.
Photos: Dwight Yoakam and Hank Williams by Jason Simanek; Brooks & Dunn and Shania Twain by Tammie Arroyo, AFF-USA