Country Music Hall of Fame Announces Class of 2021: The Judds, Ray Charles & More

by Jim Casey
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The Country Music Association announced the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021: The Judds, Ray Charles, Eddie Bayers, and Pete Drake.

Reba McEntire shared the news during the CMA’s virtual announcement on August 16. The Judds were elected in the Modern Era category, while Ray Charles was elected in the Veterans Era category. Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake tied for election in the Recording/Touring Musician category, which rotates every third year among Recording/Touring Musician, Non-Performer, and Songwriter.

This year’s honorees will be formally inducted during a ceremony later this year. The Class of 2020 (Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart, and Hank Williams Jr.) will be formally inducted in November after the pandemic postponed their induction ceremony last year.

Excerpts from the CMA’s Hall of Fame announcement are featured below.

The Judds: Modern Era Hall of Fame

The mother/daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna Judd scored 20 Top 10 hits, including 14 No. 1 singles between 1984 and 1991. Those recordings —“Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘bout the Good Old Days),” among others—stood out not only because of Wynonna’s disarming voice and Naomi’s unique approach to harmonies but also for their way of combining folk, bluegrass and blues into a sound like nothing else at the time.    

“When we moved to Nashville in the late ’70s, still struggling to make ends meet and dressing Wy and Ashley in thrift store dresses, I could’ve never imagined the success we achieved as The Judds,” said Naomi Judd. “I am beyond thrilled and humbled for this incredible recognition. There’s no greater pinnacle in country music than the Country Music Hall of Fame.”  

“This moment takes me back to 1983 when Mom and I first started,” said Wynonna Judd. “We would get in the car and visit multiple radio stations a day. It kind of feels like I’ve hit the lottery. It is so surreal. John Lennon always said that he just wanted to be remembered, and now we’re truly part of history, or I should say HERstory. What an honor.” 

Ray Charles: Veteran Era Hall of Fame

With one album, Willie Nelson has said on more than one occasion, Ray Charles did more for country music than any single artist has ever done. The album, of course, was 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the pop chart. Charles’ 12 selections for the album spanned three decades of country songs, from Floyd Tillman’s late-1930s favorite “It Makes No Difference Now” to Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love.”

Also in 1962, Charles released another dozen songs, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volume 2. Charles eventually returned to country over the years with remakes of Buck Owens’ “Crying Time” and “Together Again” and albums like 1965’s Country and Western Meets Rhythm and Blues and 1970’s Love Country Style. He teamed with Willie Nelson in 1985 for a duet of “Seven Spanish Angels.”

Ray, who died in 2004, was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Then in 1987, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Charles won 17 Grammy Awards across 44 years.

“I’d like to thank everyone who voted to induct Ray Charles into the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Valerie Ervin, Ray Charles Foundation president. “Needless to say, Ray Charles loved country music. As a matter of fact, he risked a lot in 1962 when he decided to record Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. I cannot express enough how happy and honored Ray Charles would be at this moment in time, as I am for him. Congratulations to all the fellow inductees and as Ray Charles would say, ‘That is so nice.’” 

Eddie Bayers: Drummer

Eddie Bayers will be the first drummer inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Recording/ Touring Musician category. He has performed on 300 Gold and Platinum records.

Bayers was named the Academy of Country Music’s top drummer 14 times between 1991 and 2010, including an 11-year stretch where he won every year. The Country Music Association has nominated him for Musician of the Year 10 times.  The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum honored him as one of its “Nashville Cats” in 2010.

“My heartfelt thanks to those who voted for me,” says Bayers. “I’ve been blessed to be a recording musician for 58 years. And it continues. I’ve been in the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Band for 18 years, and it continues. I’ve been in the Opry Band for 18 years, and it continues. Now I’m blessed to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which will be everlasting.”   

Pete Drake: Pedal Steel

Pete Drake will be the first pedal steel player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame’s Recording/Touring Musician category. 

Drake helped define the sound of the pedal steel on some of country music’s most enduring hits. Among them Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Pete passed away in 1988.

“I am so happy for Pete to receive this well-deserved honor,” says Drake’s widow, Rose Drake. “We are deeply touched and honored for the great recognition of this unique and talented icon.”

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