Songwriters are the heartbeat of Music City, and on Monday (Nov.1), Ten of the town’s most revered songwriters received the one of the United States’ highest songwriting achievements as they were officially inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (NaSHOF).
This year’s gala celebrated the NaSHOF’s Class of 2020 and 2021, combining the 50th and 51st Anniversary celebrations. Double the inductees meant double the star power as who’s who of the Nashville songwriting community attended in honor of the inductees.
The NaSHOF Class of 2020 included Kent Blazy and Brett James in the songwriter category, Spooner Oldham in the veteran songwriter category, Steve Earle in the songwriter/artist category, and Bobbie Gentry in the veteran songwriter/artist category.
Among the NaSHOF Class of 2021 were Rhett Akins and Buddy Cannon in the songwriter category, John Scott Sherrill in the veteran songwriter category, Toby Keith in the songwriter/artist category and Amy Grant in the veteran songwriter/artist category.
Led by Mark Ford, Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Sarah Cates, Board Chair of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation, the event kicked off with a tribute to the elusive Bobbie Gentry from Trisha Yearwood.
Taking the stage to perform Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe,” Yearwood shared a goosebump-inducing performance of the GRAMMY-winning song before Hall of Fame Member Gretchen Peters made her way to the podium to accept the honor on Gentry’s behalf.
The ceremony continued with John Anderson performing his 1982 chart-topper, “Wild and Blue,” penned solely by NaSHOF inductee John Scott Sherrill and became Sherrill’s first No.1 hit. Throughout his career, Sherrill wrote songs recorded by Shenandoah, Neal McCoy, Brooks & Dunn, Josh Turner and many more.
One of the many highlights of the evening was Rhett Akins’ crowning moment. His son, fellow country singer/songwriter, Thomas Rhett, didn’t miss the chance to pay tribute to his father.
“What’s up, Pops,” Rhett shared from the stage before performing Akins’ first No.1 single, “That Ain’t My Truck.” “I just want to say how proud I am of ya. This is the most incredible achievement of all time. I feel like you wake up every day, and you wonder if you’re ever gonna write another hit, and here you are, sitting here with millions of hit songs and an even better person — such an amazing dad, and you taught me more than anything that I could have ever dreamed of in this world.”
Following the heartfelt tribute, Akins, a two-time BMI Country Songwriter of the Year, 2017 ACM Songwriter of the Year and 2019 ACM Songwriter of the Decade, delivered a memorable speech. After admitting he had to pull over on the side of I-65 when he received the news he’d soon be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, he thanked those who helped him along the way and even gave a shout-out to his fellow Peach Pickers, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip.
The Georgia native then offered some advice for young songwriters chasing their dreams in Music City.
“If there are any young kids who want to get in the music business or maybe have been in it a while, and you’ve been stuck in a rut, I can tell you, I know that rut. I’ve been in that rut, I’ve been under that rut. I’m here for one reason — I love country music too much to quit when the chips are down,” he said.
“You have to have that to stick around in this business,” he went on to say. “You have to love country music like George Strait loves Dean Dillon, like Garth Brooks loves ‘The Dance’ and Alan Jackson loves the ‘Chattahoochee,’ and Johnny loves June. If you love it that much, you just might get a phone call from Mark Ford one day saying that you are the newest member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
Brett James was the next honoree of the evening. His “Jesus Take the Wheel” co-writers, Carrie Underwood, Gordie Sampson and Hillary Lindsey, joined together to perform the chart-topping hit, which earned the 2006 GRAMMY for Best Country Song and 2005 ACM Single of the Year trophy.
Backed by Lindsey and Sampson on piano, Underwood’s pristine vocals powered through, making for one of the evening’s top vocal showcases.
“Congrats to my friend Brett James on being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame! We’ve spent a lot of time together and [have] written a lot of songs together, and not only are you an incredible songwriter, but you are also an all-around great person,” Underwood shared on social media following her performance. “I can think of no one more deserving! Thank you for allowing us to celebrate with you!”
James shared a touching speech, reflecting on the two times he quit medical school to pursue songwriting and called the induction “truly the greatest honor of my life.” He also thanked artists such as Underwood and Kenny Chesney “for sharing your talents and being so good to me for so many years.”
Dewey Lyndon “Spooner” Oldham was welcomed into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with a performance of “I’m Your Puppet” from Jason Isbell. Oldham, who is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was beaming as he accepted the honor from NaSHOF member Dickey Lee.
The night continued with Chesney taking the stage to honor his lifelong friend and producer, Buddy Cannon. Performing Vern Gosdin’s “Set ‘em Up Joe,” penned by Cannon and Gosdin alongside Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon, Chesney shared kind words about Cannon and their decades-long friendship prior to his performance.
“I’m here to honor my friend Buddy Cannon tonight. Buddy, as a lot of you know, has been my record producer for a lot of years. Buddy is more than a producer. He’s been a brother in this business, he’s been family,” Chesney said.
“Buddy,” he continued, “I just wanted to tell you, I’m very happy for you. Nobody deserves it more than you. You’ve taught me so much about the business, you’ve taught me so much about song sense, and a lot about making records. I just want to tell you that I love you and that I’m really honored and proud to be here tonight.”
Cannon, who accepted the honor from Bill Anderson, was humbled by the opportunity to be included alongside his peers.
“I am so grateful to be in this class going into the Songwriters Hall of Fame with these wonderful writers and so many friends,” he said. “I’m just thankful to be in the presence of every one of you.”
Amy Grant was the next honoree, and was celebrated by her husband, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Member and 22-time GRAMMY winner Vince Gill. After being faced with some technical issues, Gill earned a standing ovation with Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.”
Grant, who was a pioneer for Contemporary Christian music, expressed her excitement over bring “part of the family” within the Nashville music community. She closed her speech with an optimistic message for the fellow songwriters in the crowd: “I hope the best songs are ahead.”
Emmylou Harris, who acknowledged, “a singer is nothing without a song,” shared a rendition of Steve Earle’s “Pilgrim.”
Earle accepted the NaSHOF honor from Hall of Fame Board Member Ken Paulson. During his speech, Earle shared how the news of his induction was a bright spot during an especially difficult time in his life following the death of his son, singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle.
“When I got the phone call, I got it in the midst of what was a bad year for everybody, but I had just lost my firstborn son, who did what we all do here and was pretty damn good at it,” he said. “Probably the only good thing that happened during that time was that I got a call saying that I was going to receive this, so I thank you very much.”
Class of 2021 inductee Toby Keith reflected on his career after Ronnie Dunn shared a performance of Keith’s seminal hit, the self-penned No.1 smash, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.” The track was the most-played country song of the 1990s and went on to launch Keith’s career, which now includes 45 self-penned Top 20 songs on the Billboard charts.
“This is very important to me, because the only thing I ever wanted to do is be a songwriter,” Keith proclaimed after Mac McAnally presented him with the honor.
He went on to reflect on his younger years, particularly the summer he spent with his grandmother, who owned a bar in Oklahoma. Keith explained how he used to do the dishes and collect empty beer bottles while earning $10 a week. He then used all of his free time to tap into his music skills.
“I wanted to play guitar real bad, and I learned how to play real bad,” he joked.
Capping off the memorable evening was the presentation of the final honoree, Kent Blazy. Blazy is best-known for writing songs such as “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (Garth Brooks), “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til The Sun Comes Up)” (Garth Brooks) and “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” (Chris Young). He met Brooks in 1987 and the first song they wrote together was “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” It went on to become Brooks and Blazy’s first No.1 as collaborators.
Brooks didn’t miss the opportunity to honor his friend and collaborator. “I worship Kent Blazy, I love Kent Blazy,” Brooks gushed. “His contribution to songwriting is something we can all learn from.”
Brooks also credited Blazy for another major milestone in his life as he’s the one who insisted that Brooks need to meet Yearwood. “And she ended up being the love of my life,” Brooks sweetly shared.
Following Brooks’ performance of “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” Blazy reflected on the pivotal moment in his career when his late wife talked him out of walking away from the Nashville music scene to run a music store in Kentucky.
“She looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t move here for you to move back home.’ It stuck with me,” he confessed.
Months later he met Garth Brooks, and as they say, the rest is history.