Along with the smooth-voiced singer, the late Jimmy Dean was also officially inducted into the Hall of Fame during the ceremony. The two legends join fellow 2010 inductees Billy Sherrill and Ferlin Husky, who were inducted last May, as the latest to receive country music's highest honor.
Bluegrass singers Dailey & Vincent, who last performed at a Medallion ceremony when the Statler Brothers joined the Hall of Fame two years ago, say they were thrilled to be asked to honor Jimmy. "He was great friends with the Statler Brothers, so we're excited to be here for him," Darrin Vincent tells The Boot.
The duo performed Jimmy's 'Harvest of Sunshine' during the ceremony and have a connection to Don, as well. Their new producer, Garth Fundis, produced numerous hits for the other Hall of Fame inductee. Plus, "Don Williams is my wife's favorite singer," Jaimie Dailey proclaimed.
Others who treated the invited guests to Jimmy's songs were Shawn Camp, who performed 'Bumming Around,' and Roy Clark, who sang 'Little Black Book.' "He was one of the best friends I ever had," Roy said prior to his performance. "It is true that he fired me for being late, but he put up with me longer than most people did before he fired me! We traveled the same road together; the difference was that he knew where he was going."
Jimmy was one of the first country entertainers to have a national television show on ABC. The popular series featured many country-music acts and also spotlighted Rowlf, one of Jim Henson's Muppets. In addition to his sausage business, Jimmy had his own string of country and pop hits including 'PT 109,' 'IOU,' 'To a Sleeping Beauty' and 'Big Bad John.'
The latter song was performed by Trace Adkins and the Jordanaires, who were featured on the original version, recorded on August 18, 1961. "We were in the studio with Jimmy to record one song," the group's Ray Walker told the audience. "Jimmy told [Jordanaire] Neal Matthews that he had written a poem on the plane coming to Nashville and wondered if he could put a tune to it. [Singer] Anita Kerr happened to come into the studio and we asked her to stay and sing on that song and she did."
Jimmy's wife, Donna, says he was thrilled to learn of being voted into the Hall of Fame. "When I told him people wanted to know his reaction, he said, 'I thought I was already there.' I told him he couldn't say that, but of course he did! He was always having fun, and he would have been so happy to be here and see his fans and all the people who are here to celebrate his induction. He would be having a great time."
Bill Anderson, who inducted Jimmy, recounted several stories of the singer's generosity. Bill's voice cracked throughout his presentation, particularly when he told of the plaque Roger Miller presented to him after he guested on Jimmy's television show, where he sang 'King of the Road.'
"After the song was a hit, Roger went back on the show and gave Jimmy a plaque with a gold doorknob with an inscription that read, 'Thank you for the millions of doors that you opened for me.' Jimmy opened doors for all of us, including the young singers who are here tonight."
Jimmy's daughter, Connie, for whom he wrote 'To a Sleeping Beauty,' accepted the medallion, noting, "My father loved country music and to entertain, and all the friends he made over the years and miles."
Jimmy Dean died on June 13, just a few months after finding out that he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Among those honoring Don were Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, Chris Young and Joey + Rory, who are opening shows for Don on his current tour. "He is amazing; he sounds as good today as he did in 1973," Rory tells The Boot. Joey added, "We go out every night after out set and watch the show, and he still sounds the same after all these years."
"When I was nine years old I went out and bought a Don Williams songbook so I could learn to play guitar," Rory said. "His songs were easy to learn, so Don changed my life because of that songbook."
The couple performed one of Don's earliest hits, 'Amanda,' during the induction ceremony. Alison treated the crowd to her version of 'I'm Just a Country Boy,' which she recorded as 'He's Just a Country Boy.' "I think of it as a mother singing to her son," she explained to the crowd. Del and his band did, 'Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,' while Chris sang one of Don's biggest country-pop hits, 'I Believe in You.'
Starting his career in the folk world as a member of the Pozo-Seco Singers, Don moved to Nashville in the 1970s, joining rank with Cowboy Jack Clement as a songwriter. Encouraged to record his own songs, his 1972 album, 'Don Williams: Volume One,' yielded two hits, 'The Shelter of Your Eyes' and 'Come Early Morning,' followed by 'Amanda,' a No. 1 smash for Waylon Jennings in 1979.
Don soon gained popularity throughout the world as the hits continued, including 'You're My Best Friend,' '(Turn Out the Lights) and Love Me Tonight' and 'Tulsa Time.' In fact, Keith Urban, who moved to the states from Australia, counts himself as one of Don's biggest fans.
Hall of Fame member Jim Foglesong, who was the head of Don's label for many years, inducted the singer and recounted the story of a record distributor from Africa who was excited to report that they had achieved sales of 70,000 units in his country. Foglesong says he blurted out, "Isn't your country 90 percent black?" The record distributor replied, "It's 100 percent black, but we love Don Williams!"
Don's sons, Tim and Gary, were on hand with their families to witness the induction of their father. Some would say the singer, even if he had been able to attend, would have been more comfortable staying home while his manager, Robert Pratt, picked up the award for him.
"When Don first heard about this he was so overwhelmed and honored," Pratt told the audience. "He also joked that he's always asked about being in the Hall of Fame, so now 'that's one question they won't have to ask me.' Don asked me to convey his thanks to the CMA and Hall of Fame for this honor and to let them know how proud he is to be a member of the Hall of Fame."
The evening closed with the Hall of Famers who were present gathering on stage to sing 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken.' Ray Walker of the Jordanaires led the chorus, consisting of Roy Clark, Bill Anderson, Jim Foglesong, Emmylou Harris, Harold Bradley, Charlie McCoy, Jo Walker Meador, Frances Preston, Billy Sherrill, Charlie Louvin and Bud Wendell.