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Garth Brooks, Connie Smith and musician Hargus “Pig” Robbins became the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame at the annual Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville Sunday night (Oct. 21). The special evening featured great performances from a number of guest stars, including George Strait, rocker Bob Seger, Lee Ann Womack and Ronnie Milsap, emotional tributes and stirring memories. Garth, Connie and "Pig" were selected by the Country Music Association as this year's honorees.
“Pig” Robbins, who was blinded in a childhood accident, played on hundreds of hit songs and performed the notable piano intros on such classics as “Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle and “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich. Crystal and Ronnie Milsap performed those songs, respectively. “Your magical touch has been with me forever,” Crystal said from the stage. Ronnie Dunn drew laughs when he entered the stage with two Mason jars (which appeared to hold clear liquid) in his hands to sing George Jones' first No. 1 hit, “White Lightning,” on which “Pig” also played. Gene Watson told the audience, made up of industry executives and media members, that “Pig” had played piano on all of his No. 1 songs, then sang one of those, “Fourteen Carat Mind.”
Connie Smith, one of the most influential singers in country history, was inducted by her good friend Merle Haggard, who flew in from California to do the honors. Merle was “proud” to be asked by Connie, he said. Lee Ann Womack helped pay tribute to Connie by performing her hit “You've Got Me.” Lee Ann prefaced her performance by noting, “All the girl singers want to sound like Connie Smith. It's such an honor to sing for her tonight.” Rising stars the Quebe Sisters harmonized on Connie's debut No. 1 smash, “Once a Day,” eliciting a loud ovation from the crowd. As she accepted her medallion, Connie shared a touching story about her good friend Jean Shepard, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011. “When Jean heard that I was going in,” Connie recalled, “she told me, 'I hope they hang your plaque next to mine.'” Connie also thanked her husband Marty Stuart for his support.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Director Kyle Young introduced Garth Brooks by stating his wide-ranging influence. “He proved that there were no barriers to how many hearts and souls country music could touch,” Young noted. He then announced that George Strait would be the first artist to perform in Garth's honor. George took the stage and recalled that Garth once told him that he'd written “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” for him to record. George looked at Garth seated in the audience and joked, “You just didn't try hard enough.” George turned serious and said, “I'm honored to sing it tonight.”
Rock titan Bob Seger, an artist Garth has often cited as a major influence, played Garth's hit “That Summer” with typical passion and conviction. “I'm honored that Garth asked me to do this,” Bob noted. He added that for all of Garth's successes and accolades, “he's still a really good guy.” James Taylor related that Garth's wife, Trisha Yearwood, personally asked him to appear at the ceremony. Backed by Trisha and a pair of additional singers, James sang Garth's No. 1 single “The River.”
Finally, George introduced Garth for the formal presentation. “I have always felt a connection with Garth,” George said. “You've brought so many new fans to our music. On behalf of the CMA, I now pronounce you a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame." An emotional Garth addressed the audience as he accepted his honor. “I wanted to be George Strait so damn bad,” Garth said, smiling. “And I still want to be George Strait. This is the greatest day of my music career,” he added. Garth acknowledged his three daughters in the audience and wife Trisha Yearwood.
The ceremony ended with a group singalong of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”