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CMA Establishes Songwriter Category for Country Music Hall of Fame

By Deborah Evans Price

© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
A great song is the cornerstone of every memorable Country recording and performance, so it’s only natural that CMA’s Awards and Recognition Committee resolved in 2009 to honor the contributions of those who compose by creating a new Songwriter category for admission into CMA's Country Music Hall of Fame.
“This was a part of an overall restructuring of the Hall of Fame induction categories,” said Lon Helton, Publisher/CEO, Country Aircheck, who chaired the Committee. “Basically, it started because we thought there was a better way to do what we were doing. So in an effort to make sure we recognized all facets of this business by deserving people who should be in the Hall of Fame, we created these other categories. First there was a Non-Performer category, and then we had one for Recording and/or Touring Musician and now we’ve added Songwriter to that list.”
There are already numerous singer/songwriters in the Hall of Fame, including Vince Gill, Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Mel Tillis and many others, going all the way back to Jimmie Rodgers. There are non-performing songwriters in the Hall too, though their selections often involved being nominated in the now defunct Open Category, as Harlan Howard was in 1997, or under the umbrella of Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to 1950, where Cindy Walker’s name was put forth also in 1997.
“It’s hard to compete against an artist if you are in the same category as an artist,” Helton explained. “In our experience with musicians and non-performers, we realized that we should really honor the songwriters with their own category. There are some songwriters in the Hall of Fame who have been elected before, like Harlan Howard, but very few. This way, we can ensure that songwriters will be recognized.”
“As a CMA Board member and activist for the rights of songwriters, I believe the move by CMA to include a Songwriter category for the Hall of Fame nominations is a wonderful addition to the great pioneers and leaders of our industry already included,” said Steve Bogard, President, Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). “Country Music fans are the greatest and most loyal in the world, and it’s our responsibility to let them know about the great Country songwriters behind the scenes who have written so many of their favorite Country standards. Non-performing songwriters are a unique and precious asset to Country Music, both past and present, and deserve to be honored alongside their peers.”
“Obviously, I am thrilled,” said Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson. “Only by adding this category can some of the great musical creators of all time be properly honored.”
“We all know that songwriters have always been behind the scenes, driving every kind of popular music from day one, whether it’s Broadway music, pop and all that kind of stuff,” said CMA Awards-winning songwriter Craig Wiseman. “Once again, Nashville is being great and acknowledging writers, and that’s why Nashville is a songwriter’s town. The industry honors and embraces the songwriters, and this is just another example. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
“Country Music songwriters are the architects of the stories and emotional journeys that paint our lives,” said Rusty Gaston, Partner/GM, This Music Publishing. “Their timeless works of art have the power to make listeners laugh, cry and fall in love. This is a much anticipated and overdue award for the well-deserving recipients. Great move, CMA!”
Under the new criteria, the Non-Performer; Recording and/or Touring Musician; and Songwriter categories will rotate, with a candidate elected in each one every third year.
Candidates for the Songwriter category will be chosen by the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee assigned to come up with prospective inductees from the Modern Era. Composed of artists, executives, producers and other industry professionals, each serving a three-year term, the Committee submits from 10 to 20 names to the Panel of Electors, whose members cast the final vote on who is to be admitted to the Hall.
“It is important to note that while we make these categories for voting purposes, when you go into the Hall of Fame, you are not inducted under a certain category,” Helton added. “You’re not inducted as Modern Era or Non-Performer or whatever the category is. You are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, period! The categories are for voting purposes so that we can ensure that all the deserving people have a shot.”
When the Songwriter category was submitted to the CMA Board of Directors, Helton recalled, it was “unanimously approved. I believe it was even applauded afterwards. There’s no question among anybody about the contribution that some songwriters have always made to this format. Some people have chosen to make songwriting a career into itself and for whatever reason didn’t become artists. This is a way to make sure that we honor those people. We now know that for sure, once every three years, a songwriter will be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
On Tuesday, March 1, it was announced that Bobby Braddock would be inducted under the new Songwriter category along with Reba McEntire in the Modern Era Artist and Jean Shepard in the Veterans Era Artist categories.
CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor. Inductees are chosen by CMA’s Hall of Fame Panels of Electors, which consist of anonymous voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors.
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