NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Ronnie Milsap, the blind country-soul singer and pianist, joined bluegrass vocalist Mac Wiseman and the late songwriter Hank Cochran as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, country artists Vince Gill, Martina McBride and Hunter Hayes honored the inductees Sunday with tribute performances at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Steeped in Appalachian music but classically trained, Milsap first began playing with Elvis Presley in Memphis before developing into a country singer with 40 No. 1 country hits and six Grammy Awards.
The 71-year-old said that his musical interests were not encouraged as a young child in North Carolina.
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“A lot of my counselors told me that I would never make it as a professional musician,” Milsap said in an interview before the ceremony. “But they were wrong. Ray Charles told me that I would make it. He said, ‘If your heart is in love with music that much, you need to become a professional musician.’ ”
Wiseman, born in Crimora, Virginia, started off playing with bluegrass legends such as the Foggy Mountain Boys and Bill Monroe before becoming a solo artist. He also was a record label executive and a founder of the Country Music Association in 1958.
“It was at the height of its transition period and I felt so fortunate to be a part of that period,” said Wiseman, 89, of the genre. “The different mediums like television took it to a whole new level as far as viewers and listeners.”
One of country’s most successful songwriters, Cochran’s standards include “I Fall To Pieces,” made famous by Patsy Cline, “Make The World Go Away,” recorded by Eddy Arnold, and “The Chair,” performed by George Strait.
“He was shameless when it came to getting songs recorded,” said Bobby Bare, another Hall of Fame member and songwriter. “Hank was like a heat-seeking missile. If he had a song for you, you might as well go ahead and cut it, because he was relentless and nine times out of 10 it would be a hit.”
Cochran, originally from rural Mississippi, died in 2010 at 79 and his widow, Suzi, accepted the medallion on his behalf.
The inductees were presented with medallions in front of hundreds of fans at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater.