Jim Ed Brown and The Browns (siblings Maxineand Bonnie) will be inducted in the “Veterans Era Artist” category, while The Oak Ridge Boys (Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, andRichard Sterban) will be inducted in the “Modern Era Artist” category. Martin will be inducted in the “Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980” category, which is awarded every third year in a rotation with the “Non-Performer” and “Songwriter” categories. The Browns, Martin, and The Oak Ridge Boys will increase membership in the coveted Country Music Hall of Fame from 124 to 127 members.
“Induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is the highest honor achievable for a Country Music artist, songwriter, or industry leader and this year’s inductees are all highly deserving,” said Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer.
“Today is an overwhelming day not just for me, but for the Brown family” said Jim Ed Brown. “Receiving this honor with my sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, is something I had dreamed about for years, but never knew if it would happen or not. Fame is fleeting, hit records change every week, award show winners and nominees change every year, but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever!”
“The induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is the highest honor I could ever imagine receiving,” said Allen of The Oak Ridge Boys. “It still gives me chills when I think about it really happening. I am humbled to the core. I know I speak for the other Boys when I say how grateful and honored we are to be chosen. I have seen tears in the eyes of Richard Sterban only two times. The first was when we were made members of the Grand Ole Opry. The second was when we were informed that we would be among the next inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Richard LOVES baseball, so, when we were about to depart, he turned around to me and said, ‘This is Cooperstown!’”
“We have seen dream after dream come true, and we are thankful and humbled every day. Now this day has come, and it is the biggest thing to ever happen to The Oak Ridge Boys,” added Bonsall. “I have no words, and yet I have thousands of words racing through my heart and mind. I am in total awe. The whole paradigm has changed. Four little Boys from Texas, Alabama, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, who dreamed of singing songs in four-part harmony will NOW be in ‘The Hall.’”
Induction ceremonies for Martin (who passed away in 2001), Jim Ed Brown and The Browns, and The Oak Ridge Boys will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater later this year. Since 2007, the Museum’s Medallion Ceremony, an annual reunion of the Hall of Fame membership, has served as the official rite of induction for new members.
CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor.
“We are in the business of celebrating legendary artists, and today we have the privilege of honoring a very special group of legendary artists, the class of 2015 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees,” said Kyle Young, Director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “These remarkable entertainers – The Oak Ridge Boys; Jim Ed Brown and his sisters, Maxine and Bonnie; and the late, great guitarist Grady Martin – all represent quality and precision in their music. They exemplify harmony, whether in the blending of their magnificent voices, or in the tightly knit ensemble playing of an accomplished musician.”
The announcement was made today in the Rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and could be seen via live stream on CMAworld.comwith the archived footage being available through the end of the month.
Martin played guitar on some of music’s most important and memorable songs, regardless of genre, in a career that spanned five decades and touched millions of listeners around the world. It was Martin who provided that beautiful, cantering Spanish guitar work on Marty Robbins’ seminal “El Paso” – using a borrowed guitar. And he got the heart racing on Roy Orbison’s proto-rock ‘n’ roll song “Oh, Pretty Woman,” then tore it out on Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry.” He got the wheels rollin’ on Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and the tears fallin’ on Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Martin, who passed away in 2001 at the age of 72, is perhaps best known for his work as part of The Nashville A-Team, a group of studio musicians who helped define Country Music during the Nashville Sound era. He worked with almost every major Country star of the 1950s and ‘60s, including future fellow Hall of Fame members Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price, and Ernest Tubb. He even played a number of instruments on “The Three Bells,” the universal hit for fellow 2015 inductees The Browns.
Martin’s list of session credits spans all genres, however, and includes a who’s who of legends such as Joan Baez, JJ Cale, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Burl Ives, Elvis Presley, and Doc Watson, among countless others. Martin is the only person besides Chet Atkins to record with both Elvis Presley and Hank Williams and he served a short tenure in Williams’ Drifting Cowboys as a fiddle player in the early ‘50s.
Martin, born Jan. 17, 1929 near Chapel Hill, Tenn., showed a talent for music at a young age. His mother taught him to play piano and he learned fiddle and guitar. It was his horse-hair bow abilities that landed him his first job, playing for radio bandleader Big Jeff Bess in 1944 at age 15. By the time he was 20, he had appeared on his first recording session, joined the Opry house band, and already hit the road several times. Over the next decade he would become one of Country Music’s most sought after live performers and held positions in the bands of western swing star Paul Howard, the Bailes Brothers, Little Jimmy Dickens, and led Red Foley’s band on ABC-TV’s “Ozark Jubilee.”
The six-string became his preferred instrument in the early 1950s as the electric guitar began to proliferate. His ability to string together simple but dramatic guitar runs that ranged the entire emotional spectrum, from the rocker-inspiring “Train Kept a Rollin’” for The Johnny Burnette Trio to Robbins’ fuzz-drenched “Don’t Worry” and Orbison’s “Crying,” led to thousands of recording sessions over 30 years in Nashville with top producers including Atkins, Owen Bradley, and Don Law.
Martin, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, also led his own band, the Slew Foot Five, and made his own instrumental singles and albums for Decca. He returned to the stage in the late 1970s, briefly joining Jerry Reed’s band. And after helping to cut the soundtrack for Nelson’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” he joined Nelson’s iconic band in 1979, a position he held for 16 years till he retired from the road in 1995.
Veterans Era Artist – Jim Ed Brown and The Browns
Like fellow inductees The Oak Ridge Boys, Jim Ed Brown and his family trio The Browns helped define an era while also taking Country Music to wider, more cosmopolitan audiences. Their smooth three-part harmonies, centered around Jim Ed’s rich baritone complemented by Maxine’s alto and Bonnie’s breathy soprano, lifted the soul and cut across genre lines to bring a more sophisticated sound to Country Music.
Perhaps the most important vocal group of the Nashville Sound era, The Browns’ harmonies were among the most influential of the time, immediately influencing groups like the Beatles and the Osborne Brothers. And the trio’s take on what Country Music can aspire to be can still be felt decades later in the music of modern vocal groups like Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.
Jim Ed (born April 1, 1934 in Sparkman, Ark.), Maxine (born April 27, 1931 in Campti, La.) and Bonnie (July 31, 1937 in Sparkman, Ark.) got their start performing at church and social functions as teenagers in Southwestern Arkansas.
Maxine signed up Jim Ed for a talent contest on Little Rock radio station KLRA’s “Barnyard Frolic.” Brown didn’t win, but he was invited to join the cast. Maxine eventually joined him on a stage and the two found quick success as a duo, landing a spot on the popular and influential “Louisiana Hayride” in 1954 and recording “Looking Back to See,” a surprise hit that rose to No. 8 on Billboard’s Country chart.
Bonnie filled out the trio by joining formally in 1955 and The Browns quickly scored another hit with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” It was an exciting time for the siblings, as chronicled in Maxine’s autobiography Looking Back to See and famed author Rick Bass’ fictionalized account of their lives, Nashville Chrome. They found themselves on the road with good friend Elvis Presley early in their career and helped establish Nashville as Music City, USA, along with acts like Presley and the Everly Brothers. Together they all pushed the boundaries of popular music.
They signed with RCA Records in 1955, teaming with legendary producer Chet Atkins, and eventually recorded 250 sides with the label, including sizeable hits “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing.” They toured the U.S. relentlessly during this period and also went to Europe with fellow RCA acts.
The Browns reached new levels of popularity with the recording of 1959’s “The Three Bells,” a song originally performed by Edith Piaf in France. The song displayed The Browns’ willingness to explore folk and pop modes in their music and the public responded, making it No. 1 on the pop and Country charts. It even rose to No. 10 on the R&B charts, showing its universal appeal.
The song and subsequent hits like “The Old Lamplighter” also proved widely popular and led the group to huge television appearance opportunities including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “American Bandstand,” and “The Perry Como Show.”
After initial friction because of their pop leanings, The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. The trio, which was occasionally augmented by younger sister Norma, formally disbanded in 1967 when Maxine and Bonnie chose to retire to raise their young families.
The Browns have made occasional appearances over the years, recording a reunion album in the mid-1980s and appearing on the Opry. Jim Ed, meanwhile, remains a beloved figure in Nashville. He continued his solo career after the trio separated, scoring Top 10 hits like signature songs “Pop a Top,” “Morning,” “Southern Living,” “Sometime Sunshine,” and “It’s That Time of Night.”
Jim Ed Brown managed to recapture the magic of boy-girl harmony again in 1976 when he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius. They were named the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 1977 and recorded memorable hits like “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You,” which went to No. 1; “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye”; “Lying In Love With You”; “Fools”; and “Morning Comes Too Early.”
Brown hosted a number of television shows in the 1980s, including the contest show “You Can Be a Star,” and has remained a notable figure in Nashville, occasionally appearing on the Opry and hosting “Country Music Greats Radio Show” for more than a decade.
Modern Era Artist – The Oak Ridge Boys
Few Country Music groups have had the enduring popularity, cultural significance, or crossover success of The Oak Ridge Boys, a vocal harmony quartet that started out in traditional Country and gospel during World War II and evolved with the times to help popularize and modernize Country Music far beyond traditional genre and regional lines.
The group went through numerous lineup changes in its early decades before Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban took control in the 1960s and early 1970s and turned it into a dynamic Country Music force. The alignment focused on high-energy vocal harmonies that brought crowds to their feet with increasingly secular music and a look and attitude that more accurately reflected the times, characterized by Golden’s still-magnificent flowing beard and fur coats.
The Oaks’ contemporary look and increasing focus on modern Country – suggested by Jim Halsey, who would soon become their career manager – didn’t sit well with traditionalists, and the group struggled for a few years in the early 1970s. It wasn’t until the release of the 1977 album Y’All Come Back Saloon that The Oaks hit the right formula, and when they did, their popularity soared.
They landed their first No. 1, “I’ll Be True To You,” in 1978, and perhaps just as significantly, Paul Simon asked the group to sing backup on what would become his hit “Slip Slidin’ Away,” opening the door to the pop world for the group. Simon wasn’t the only one to lean on their harmony. They accompanied Brenda Lee on her Grammy Award-nominated “Broken Trust” (1980); George Jones on his Country smash “Same Ole Me” (1982); and they also have harmonized behind Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe, and Leon Russell among many others.
National audiences learned the joy of The Oaks’ harmonies when the group’s biggest hit, 1981’s “Elvira,” became a crossover pop smash with bass singer Sterban’s unforgettable “oom papa oom papa mau mau” refrain. The song brought them one of their five Grammy Awards, went double Platinum, and helped bring much-needed fun to a genre that had a reputation for weepers and hard times.
The inescapable “Elvira” propelled The Oaks’ 1981 album Fancy Free to double Platinum. They followed a year later with another crossover hit, “Bobbie Sue,” and the album of the same title went Gold as have many others in the group’s catalogue. Their 1980 and 1984 Greatest Hits albums are Platinum. All in all, the current lineup has scored 17 No. 1 hits, released more than 40 albums, and achieved sales in excess of 41 million units.
The Oaks’ classics include “Trying To Love Two Women,” “Beautiful You,” “Fancy Free,” “I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes,” “Make My Life With You,” “Touch A Hand, Make A Friend,” and “It Takes A Little Rain (To Make Love Grow).”
The Oak Ridge Boys’ “American Made” became a national ad jingle. Their “Thank God For Kids” is considered a Country standard. And their recording of “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” helped launch the songwriting career of Rodney Crowell.
The group also helped open the doors for Country Music on network television, with a number of national televised concerts including HBO and PBS specials, and as hosts and performers on primetime. They hosted their own series, “The Oak Ridge Boys Live from Las Vegas” for TNN in the late 1990s.
The quartet is one of the most enduring in music and had a long history and dozens of members before the tenures of Allen (born April 29, 1943 in Taylortown, Texas), Bonsall (born May 18, 1948 in Philadelphia), Golden (born Jan. 12, 1939 in Brewton, Ala.) and Sterban (born April 24, 1943 in Camden, N.J.) began. Founder Wally Fowler started the group in 1943 in Knoxville, Tenn., as The Georgia Clodhoppers. They were hired to perform for the restricted staff and their families at the nearby Oak Ridge nuclear research facility. They appeared there so often, they eventually changed their name to the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1945, the year they began performing on the Grand Ole Opry.
The Oak Ridge Boys – the rebranded group – have received 15 CMA Awards nominations and won two: Vocal Group of the Year in 1978 and Single of the Year in 1981 for “Elvira” (the group’s backing band won CMA Instrumental Group of the Year in 1978 and 1986). The Oaks were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000, and Bonsall and Sterban were inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 1994. Golden received the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s Life Work Award for Performing Achievement in 1997. And Allen was honored with induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Oak Ridge Boys have participated in decades of philanthropic endeavors including Feed the Children, the Boy Scouts of America, and the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
About CMA: Founded in 1958, the Country Music Association was the first trade organization formed to promote a type of music. In 1961, CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame to recognize artists and industry professionals with Country Music’s highest honor. More than 7,400 music industry professionals and companies from around the globe are members of CMA. The organization’s objectives are to serve as an educational and professional resource for the industry and advance the growth of Country Music around the world. This is accomplished through CMA’s core initiatives: the CMA Awards, which annually recognize outstanding achievement in the industry; the CMA Music Festival, which benefits music education and is taped for a three-hour special; and “CMA Country Christmas,” featuring Country artists performing original music and Christmas classics for broadcast during the holiday season. All of CMA’s television properties will air on the ABC Television network through 2021.