By now the first ballots for the 2011 Hall of Fame selection have been sent out to the three hundred or so anonymous voters who get the privilege of selecting who goes in. As these people are unknown except to a select few in the Country Music Association (which is understandable, it prevents vote buying by undeserving acts), this is a general appeal to those people. Consider this one of those "for your consideration" ads that fill the trade papers at nomination/voting time for the Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar awards.
I will be the first to admit that there are a number of people who may or may not be a worthy candidate for induction. I am also a realist: just because I like someone does not mean they are automatically Hall of Fame quality. We must never water down the criteria for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame lest it become a parody (much the way the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame currently is, with this year's nominations of one-hit wonders and rap acts while excluding legitimately "famous" [it is a hall of fame, after all] acts from the nomination process). Also, I would hate to see the voters act as though they have some birthright to the induction vote (the way people in the Baseball Writers Association seem to feel about their duty to the Baseball Hall of Fame: some of them return blank ballots every year because they arrogantly claim nobody deserves a unanimous vote, and others claim that one steroid user will never get their vote while saying they'd vote for another steroid user in a heartbeat). The people who are potential inductees, the country music industry in general, and all of the fans who not only like the artists but who walk through those doors in Nashville and lay down $20 (or $33 to go to Studio B as well) to view the plaques deserve educated, informed voters who take their responsibility seriously and will not just mark a ballot because someone died (sadly, Patsy Montana was inducted that way: she died after the ballots were mailed in 1996) or because someone is the retiring president of the CMA (I lost count as to how many people were inducted this way).
With that, I humbly present "for your consideration" the following acts for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011:
Wilburn Brothers. I know they were not well-liked in Nashville, for various reasons; however, both Teddy and Doyle are gone now, so bury the hatchet and those ill feelings and induct them! Do they belong? They had one of the most successful syndicated country music shows in existence in the 60s and early 70s (which still airs on RFD-TV) and a career that spanned four decades. They also launched the career of a gal from Butcher Holler, Kentucky.
Elton Britt. If we can induct (rightfully, in my opinion) Vernon Dalhart for having the first million-seller in country music history and Patsy Montana for being the first woman to sell a million, then Elton Britt can also be inducted for having the distinction of being the first recipient of a gold record awarded to a country song ("There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," 1942). Britt's career, however, was much more than that: a superb yodeler and movie actor (he appeared in western films in the 40s) who continued to chart until shortly before his death in 1972.
Al Dexter. Al Dexter is the reason Billboard magazine created a "hillbilly and western" chart in 1944. The phenomenal success of "Pistol Packin' Mama" throughout the last part of 1943 bumped pop acts out of their position on the charts. The Hall of Fame, as mentioned earlier, has acknowledged the historic firsts in country music. This man's popularity in the 1940s gave us another historic first: a chart to track the popularity of country music.
Cowboy Copas. Eddie Stubbs says it every time he plays a Copas record: "This man did so much more in country music than just die in a plane crash with Patsy Cline." In fact, he was the superstar on that ill-fated plane in 1963: Patsy had just had a few hits and Hawkshaw Hawkins' career was mostly as a good but "regional" or "minor" success.
The Browns. Along with Jean Shepard, they are (thanks to Ferlin Husky's induction this year) the final "superstar" act of the 1950s and early 1960s who need to be inducted . They were so much more than "The Three Bells," although the success of that song in country and pop in an era of Elvis is in and of itself criteria enough for induction.
Archie Campbell. There is no more deserving comedian who is not in than the mayor of Bull's Gap, Tennessee. His popularity in Knoxville in the 1930s and 40s was such that he was thrown a parade when he was discharged from the Navy. After that, he went on to success as a recording star of both comedic ("Rindercella" and other spoonerisms) and straight ("Trouble in the Amen Corner") material, a noted songwriter, and one of the writers and stars of Hee Haw from its inception until his death.
Connie Smith. Connie Smith still owns the record for the biggest #1 debut single ("Once a Day," 1964, which stayed at #1 for over a month). Her string of hits is long and continues today with her work with her husband, Marty Stuart.
Reba McEntire. I'm not a fan of her music for the most part, but to deny the success this woman has enjoyed in country music (and taking it to a larger audience courtesy of her successful television show) is to appear downright idiotic.
Ray Stevens. Until "The Streak" came along in 1974, country music had only seen one million-selling comedy record (Homer and Jethro's "How Much is That Hound Dog in the Window" in 1953). Stevens is now known primarily as a comedian; however, he netted two Grammy awards for "serious" material (including "Everything is Beautiful" in 1970). He is also well-known outside the confines of country music for his material.
The third category alternates every year between musician (Charlie McCoy was the last inductee in that area), songwriter (Bill Sherrill this year), and non-performer. Sadly, most of the time the "non-performer" is a CMA executive or someone in the Nashville industry, as if to say that country music never existed outside of Nashville (when, in reality, Nashville was a latecomer to the country music bandwagon). I would love to see someone other than "the usual suspects" nominated/inducted this year:
Syd Nathan. Nathan owned King Records, the Cincinnati-based record company that bears the distinction of being the first (and until Heart of Texas Records, the only) exclusively country music record label when it launched in 1943. If that isn't worthy of induction, NOTHING is. After all, "hillbilly music" was still dismissed as unimportant during the 1940s (to the point where the lack of stores carrying country records prompted Ernest Tubb to start his own record store in 1947), and Nathan took a huge gamble -- one that paid off handsomely with acts such as future Hall of Famers Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, the Delmore Brothers, Homer & Jethro, and Bill Carlisle.
Bill C. Malone. Dr. Malone literally wrote the book on country music when his doctoral thesis was published in 1968 as Country Music USA. It is the reference book for scholars, writers, journalists, and anyone who wants to know the history of country music. I am a fan, admittedly; but there is a good reason for that: without Malone's ground-breaking work, there would be no books on country music today.
Lowell Blanchard. Blanchard was the program director at WNOX in Knoxville. Under his supervision, the station became the cradle of the Hall of Fame, featuring acts from Roy Acuff in the 1930s to Don Gibson in the 1950s.
Horace Logan. Don't recognize the name? You will recognize the talent he introduced to the world: Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnnie & Jack, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, and Jim Reeves. Logan was the founder of the Louisiana Hayride, one of the most important "barn dance" shows in America.
Nothing would make me happier than to see some of these names on the induction list when it is released in February.