Eric Church got emotional as he honored one of his musical heroes, Hank Williams Jr., on Sunday (Nov. 21) during a star-studded Medallion Ceremony, which celebrated the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Prior to honoring one of the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Church shared an emotion-filled story of how Williams Jr. helped him chase his dreams in Music City.
While honoring Hank Williams Jr., Church also paid tribute to his late younger brother, Brandon, who died in 2018 after suffering two seizures.
“I came to this town many years ago to try to catch some dreams and I caught most of mine. And I caught them because of Hank’s music,” Church recalled. ”We’ll get into some of that in a minute.”
Church went on to tell a “quick Hank story” about how the legendary country singer took him under his wing when no one else would.
“Hank was kind enough to take me out at a time in my career when the industry wasn’t as kind to me. And we were in Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana,” Church added. “I had a song at that time called ‘Smoke A Little Smoke,’ and it was doing okay.”
“I went out… and had ’em going” Church continued. ”I remember being side stage because my mom always watched Hank’s show. I was sitting there and Hank had come up to me, and I’m still feeling pretty good and proud, you know this is my crowd and I just sang ‘Smoke A Little Smoke.’ And he comes up and goes, ‘heard you had them going cousin.’ And he goes ‘watch this.’”
The North Carolina native then reminisced about some of his “favorite memories” when he was younger, which involved listening to Williams Jr’s music with a “companion.”
“I would always listen to Hank with my little brother [Brandon],” shared as he appeared to hold back tears. ”We would go and listen… I don’t have my brother anymore and what matters to me from that journey is being here tonight… I mentioned catching dreams and me getting them.”
“This is one of my favorite nights that I’ve ever had in this town,” Church declared. “And it’s because that’s what music is. It’s about here (as he pointed his heart) and it’s about passing that on. So, when I sit here tonight, it’s all about I’m honoring Hank, but it’s also, I think, about my brother.”
Church then said “thank you” as he pointed at Hank Williams Jr, who was seated near stage.
Following his heartfelt story, Church performed a unique rendition of “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Church earned a roaring applause as he concluded his performance and pointed at the country legend, who was sitting the audience.
Hank Williams Jr. became the 142nd member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted alongside Dean Dillon and Marty Stuart, who became the 140th and 141st members of the coveted institution.
The legendary artists and songwriters received country music’s highest honor during a star-studded Medallion Ceremony held inside the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s CMA Theater.
Special guest artists, including Eric Church, George Strait, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Worsham, Ashley McBryde, Kenny Chesney, Brittney Spencer, Alan Jackson, Shooter Jennings, Brenda Lee and Pastor Evelyn Hubbard and Connie Smith, appeared to share heartfelt tributes to the newly minted Country Music Hall of Famers. The tributes were a surprise to both the audience and inductees.
Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith closed out the ceremony with a performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
The class of 2021 Country Music Hall of Fame members-elect Eddie Bayers, Ray Charles, Pete Drake and the Judds will be inducted next year.