Tom T. Hall looked around the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda Tuesday morning. He spotted the likenesses of music stars he had toured with, fished with and talked with. These were his friends, now bronzed and lionized, and Hall pondered the import of the moment.
Hall knew that he, along with Emmylou Harris, The Statler Brothers and Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman, had been voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"I thought maybe this would be like getting an award or something, but it's not," he said. "It's spiritual."
An hour later, downstairs in the Hall's Ford Theater, peers and Country Music Association officials announced the news to a crowd that often rose to cheer the inductees, who will officially join the Hall at medallion ceremonies in the spring.
The specifics of the inductions are wordy and technical. The Statlers and Hall enter in the "Career Achieved National Prominence Between World War II and 1975" category, while Harris is in the "Between 1975 and the Present" slot and Stoneman is a "Prior to World War II" entry.
The reasons for the honor are simpler: These people altered country's arc and reach.
Hall, once described as "the thinking man's good ol' boy," revealed complex philosophies through uncomplicated language and helped to redefine the country song.
Since her 1975 solo recording debut, Harris has served as the very conscience of modern country.
The Statlers integrated gospel harmonies, country themes and impeccable showmanship. And Stoneman was an early pioneer who made possible the "Bristol Sessions," the so-called "Big Bang of Country Music" when he, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made seminal recordings.
"We've been blessed by a lot of awards," said Don Reid, whose Statlers are the most awarded group in country history. "This one is the crowning event of our career. We've always thought of the Hall of Fame as the place our heroes live."
Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman figured he could sing hillbilly music better than other people who were recording it, so he traveled from his Virginia home to New York City in 1924.
The result of that trip was a song called "The Sinking of the Titanic," which became one of the biggest hits of the '20s.
Stoneman ultimately persuaded producer Ralph Peer to record in Bristol, Va. Stoneman served as a performer and talent scout for the several days of recordings that came to be called "The Bristol Sessions," and he and wife Hattie were the first artists recorded at Bristol.
"If this was (country's) Big Bang, then Stoneman was the one who lit the match," said WSM-AM personality and country historian Eddie Stubbs.
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