NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ray Charles and The Judds joined the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday in a ceremony filled with tears, music and laughter, just a day after Naomi Judd died unexpectedly.
The loss of Naomi Judd altered the normally celebratory ceremony, but the music played on, as the genre’s singers and musicians mourned the country legend while also celebrating the four inductees: The Judds, Ray Charles, Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake. Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and many more performed their hit songs.
Naomi and Wynonna Judd were among the most popular duos of the 1980s, scoring 14 No. 1 hits during their nearly three-decade career. On the eve of her induction, the family said in a statement to The Associated Press that Naomi Judd died at the age of 76 due to “the disease of mental illness.”
Daughters Wynonna and Ashley Judd accepted the induction amid tears, holding onto each other and reciting a Bible verse together.
“I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today,” Ashley Judd said of her mother to the crowd while crying. Wynonna Judd talked about the family gathering as they said goodbye to her and she and Ashley Judd recited Psalm 23.
“Though my heart is broken I will continue to sing,” Wynonna Judd said.
Fans gathered outside the museum, drawn to a white floral bouquet outside the entrance and a small framed photo of Naomi Judd below. A single rose was laid on the ground.
Charles’ induction showcased his genre-defying country releases, which demonstrated country music’s commercial appeal. The Georgia-born singer and piano player grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and in 1962 released “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” which became one of the best selling country releases of his era.
Blinded and orphaned at a young age, Charles is best known for R&B, gospel and soul, but his decision to record country music changed the way the world thought about the genre, expanding audiences in the Civil Rights era.
Charles’ version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” spent five weeks on top of the Billboard 100 chart and remains one of his most popular songs. He died in 2004.
Brooks sang “Seven Spanish Angels,” one of Charles’ hits with Willie Nelson, while Bettye LaVette performed “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Country Music Hall of Famer Ronnie Milsap said he met Charles when he was a young singer and that others tried to imitate Charles, but no one could measure up.
“There was one of him and only one,” said Milsap. “He sang country music like it should be sung.”
Charles is only the third Black artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, alongside Opry pioneer DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride.
“Mr. Charles always stood his ground for what he loved,” said Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation. “And country music was what he truly, truly loved.”
The Hall of Fame also inducted two recordings musicians who were elemental to so many country songs and singers: Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake.
Bayers, a drummer in Nashville for decades who worked on 300 platinum records, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry band. He regularly played on records for The Judds, Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, Alan Jacksonand Kenny Chesney. He is the first drummer to join the institution.
Drake, who died in 1988, was a pedal steel guitar player and a member of Nashville’s A-team of skilled session musicians, played on hits like “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones. He is the first pedal steel guitar player to become part of the Hall of Fame.
Drake is known for creating the talk box, a technology that allowed him to vocalize through his pedal steel guitar. It was later popularly adopted by artists like Peter Frampton and many others.
His wife, Rose, said that musicians like her husband deserved a place in musical history.
“The musicians of the ‘60s, ‘70s. and ‘80s created Nashville as Music City and we can’t let that get away,” Rose Drake said.