Country Music Hall of Fame to Announce Class of 2022 on May 17: Who Deserves to Get In?

by Jim Casey

The Country Music Hall of Fame will announce its Class of 2022 on May 17. 2019 CMHOF inductees—and the greatest country music duo of all time—Brooks & Dunn will host the announcement, which will also live stream via the CMA’s YouTube at 10 a.m. CT.

The Country Music Association will elect one new member/act into the Country Music Hall of Fame in each of its three categories: Modern Era, Veteran Era, and Songwriter/Musician/Non-Performer (this category rotates, and this year a non-performer will be elected). Modern Era candidates are eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence,” while Veteran Era candidates are eligible after 40 years.

The pool of possible Modern Era candidates includes, among others, Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain, Keith Whitley, Trisha Yearwood, and Dwight Yoakam, while the Veteran Era includes artists like Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, Gene Watson, and more.

Let’s focus on the Modern Era category, for the sake of brevity. Who deserves to get in this year? Here are my Top 3 picks.

1. Dwight Yoakam

I’ve been stumping for Dwight Yoakam’s inclusion into the Country Music Hall of Fame for more than five years. But he’s been bested each year (Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Brooks & Dunn, Marty Stuart, and The Judds). Yes, there’s a certain hierarchy (behind the scenes) and promotional push involved with induction. We won’t get into all that, but 2022 feels like it could finally be the Year of Yoakam. And he’s more than deserving.

Dwight’s impact on the country genre can’t be measured in records sold or awards (but he has plenty of both). Born in Kentucky. Raised in Ohio. Perfected in California. That’s the old Yoakam chestnut. He mixed his country roots with the California punk/rock scene of the 1980s to become a genre giant.

Wrapped in skin-tight Levi’s and capped with a Stetson, Dwight has been swiveling his way to stardom since dropping his 1986 debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Along the way, he has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide, including critical masterpieces like 1988’s Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room and 2012’s 3 Pears. Five of his albums have topped Billboard‘s Country Albums chart, as well as two Billboard No 1 singles (“Streets of Bakersfield” and “I Sang Dixie”). In addition, Dwight has been nominated for 18 Grammy awards, winning two during his career. Let’s not forget Dwight’s diversified acting chops. He has starred in numerous movies, including Sling Blade, Panic Room, Four Christmases, Cry Macho, and more.

Put the man in the Hall.

2. Shania Twain

Haters gonna hate on the Queen of Country-Pop (or is it Pop-Country?). But Shania Twain’s resume is crazy impressive. Actually, it impresses us much. Shania is going to end up in the Country Music Hall of Fame. In fact, before Martina McBride or Trisha Yearwood get inducted (both deserving), Shania should go in first.

Not only is Shania the best-selling female artist in the history of country music, but also she is the No. 6 best-selling solo female artist across all genres, according to the RIAA. Only George Strait and Garth Brooks have sold more records in the country genre. For about a decade between 1995 and 2005, Shania was one of the most powerful forces country music has ever seen—or heard. Shania’s streak of three consecutive Diamond-certified albums is unfathomable in today’s country landscape. And her 1997 album, Come On Over, has been certified Double Diamond by the RIAA for sales of 20 million units (No. 12 all time in any genre).

Yes, Shania was the Queen of Country-Pop. And yes, Queens belong in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

3. Keith Whitley

I’m really conflicted about making the case for Keith Whitley, who is one of my all-time favorite artists, in the Modern Era category. I think Keith will eventually be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the Veteran Era category (maybe even this year), depending on the definition of “achieving national prominence.” But he’s got a solid case as a Modern Era candidate.

As a teen, Whitley (with friend Ricky Skaggs) joined Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass troupe, Clinch Mountain Boys. Over the next decade, Whitley established himself as a versatile force in bluegrass with both his guitar work and vocals. In 1983, Whitley moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career, eventually landing a recording contact with RCA in 1984. While Keith’s first three singles fizzled, he scored a Top 20 hit with “Miami, My Amy” in 1985.

A handful of Top 10 hits—including “Ten Feet Away” and “Hard Livin'”—followed, before Keith scored his first chart-topper, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” in August 1988. “When You Say Nothing At All” followed suit in December 1988, as did Keith’s final release—”I’m No Stranger to the Rain”—before he died at age 33 of alcohol poisoning in May 1989. Posthumously released singles “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin'” also topped the chart in 1989 and 1990, respectively.

Other than Hank Williams, Sr., 29, and Patsy Cline, 30, (both in the CMHOF), no other artist had such a profound impact on the country genre in such a short period of time as Keith Whitley, 33, in my opinion.