On Monday (March 18), three members of the country music community were announced as the next inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, making up its Class of 2024.

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The late Toby Keith was named as the modern era artist category inductee. John Anderson will be inducted in the veterans era artist category, and guitarist James Burton will be inducted in the recording and/or touring musician category. They join 152 others who are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame and will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during the annual medallion ceremony, set for this October. The CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize artists and industry professionals with country music’s highest honor. 

“Each of these inductees have made an indelible impact on country music,” Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern told the audience that gathered at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s rotunda that morning.

Louisiana native and guitarist Burton, who in the 1950s developed the “chicken pickin’” style of guitar playing, was announced as an inductee by hall members Brooks & Dunn. Fellow Louisiana native Brooks called Burton “a hometown hero.”

“I’m honored. It’s just amazing. Actually, I’m really surprised. I want to thank all of you guys for your love and support. It’s truly an honor,” Burton told the crowd.

Burton began playing guitar at 13 years old, inspired by a white 1953 Telecaster electric guitar and the work of his musical heroes including Chet Atkins and Les Paul. Burton developed a hybrid picking style that used a flat pick between his thumb and index finger, as well as a fingerpick on his middle finger. He would mimic the slide of a pedal steel, but also blend in staccato notes — the style became known as chicken pickin’. Burton quickly became the youngest staff musician on the country music show Louisiana Hayride. A few years later, Dale Hawkins set lyrics to guitar instrumental Burton had written, resulting in the Billboard top 30 hit “Susie-Q” in 1957. Burton soon joined Ricky Nelson’s backing band and went on to play on records by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Glen Campbell, the Everly Brothers, the Monkees and more. His work is heard on soundtracks for movies including Rio Bravo and Viva Las Vegas. When Elvis Presley debuted at Las Vegas’ International Hotel in 1969, Presley called Burton and asked him to put a band together; the result was Burton becoming band leader and lead guitarist for Presley’s “Takin’ Care of Business” band. Burton played with Presley for the remainder of Presley’s life. He played on Gram Parson’s GB and Grievous Angels albums and was in the first version of Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band. After Presley’s death in 1977, Burton played in John Denver’s band for two decades. Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007. Burton was so associated with the Fender Telecaster that when Fender launched its first “signature” Telecaster in 1990, it bore Burton’s name.

Last month, on Feb. 6, it was announced that Keith had died after a battle with stomach cancer. On Monday morning, CMA CEO Sarah Trahern told the audience gathered in the Hall of Fame’s rotunda that she learned that Keith would become one of the newest inductees just a few hours after Keith’s passing.

Trahern noted that while election rules do not allow someone to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the year in which they pass away, that doesn’t apply, as Keith was elected prior to his passing.

“Nominations were made in the fall of 2023 with the first ballot sent to voters before the holidays, with the final ballot closing on Friday, Feb. 2,” Trahern said. “Our professional services partners at Deloitte released the results to us just a few days later. This year, we anticipated receiving the names of our final inductees on Tuesday, Feb. 6. As we know now, we woke up that morning to the heartbreaking news that our friend Toby Keith had lost his long battle with stomach cancer. What’s bittersweet is that just a few hours later, our team received word from Deloitte that he’d been elected in the modern-era category. Truly one of the greatest honors of my job is getting to inform these inductees that they are the newest members of the hallowed class. My heart sank that Tuesday afternoon, knowing that we had missed the chance to inform Toby while he was still with us, but I have no doubt that he is smiling down on us, knowing that he will always be ‘as good as he once was.’”

Oklahoma native Keith began playing guitar on an instrument his grandmother bought him. He later began touring regionally with his band Easy Money. Keith admired artists such as Merle Haggard and Bob Seger, who also wrote their own songs. When Keith made his way to Nashville, he had a cassette tape of some of what he considered his best songs. One label head noted the songs weren’t good enough, so Keith returned to Oklahoma. However, Harold Shedd (Mercury Records Nashville head at the time) heard about Keith’s music and traveled to Oklahoma City to meet him. The songs on that cassette included three of the songs that would become Keith’s first four singles, including “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “Wish I Didn’t Know Now” and “He Ain’t Worth Missing.” The fourth song was “Does that Blue Moon Ever Shine on You,’ which became a No. 1 hit from Keith’s 1996 album Blue Moon. “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” was an immediate hit for Keith. During his career, Keith earned 20 Billboard Country Airplay hits, and was a writer or co-writer on many of those. Keith’s label at the time, Mercury, shuffled him from imprint to imprint including Polydor, A&M and back to Mercury. When Mercury turned down his fifth album, Keith asked the label to release him from his contract. Keith paid Mercury for the album, then took it to DreamWorks Nashville, which was being run by his producer James Stroud. The album’s first single, “How Do You Like Me Now?!”, spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart. His five DreamWorks albums all went multi-Platinum, with 2002’s Unleashed and 2003’s Shock’n Y’all reaching 5x Platinum. His songs including “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” “I Love This Bar,” and “American Soldier” spent multiple weeks atop the Country Airplay chart, while “As Good As I Once Was” and a duet with Willie Nelson called “Beer for My Horses” each spent six weeks at No. 1. 

Keith wrote “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and following his father’s passing in March of that same year. The song became a lightning rod of controversy. Always an ardent supporter of the U.S. military, Keith performed on 11 U.S.O. tours, playing more than 200 shows for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. He also earned the hit “American Soldier,” which details the daily sacrifices and struggles of those in the U.S. armed forces. In 2005, Keith launched his own label, Show Dog Records, releasing songs including “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” “American Ride,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Hope on the Rocks,” “Made In America,” “God Love Her” and “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” which he wrote after being inspired by Clint Eastwood, who later featured it in his 2018 film The Mule. Keith was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2007, the all-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021. Keith was honored with the National Medal of the Arts in 2020 and the BMI Icon Award in 2022.

Florida native Anderson was named to the veterans era artist category.

“This is probably the greatest honor I could ever receive, standing on this stage today…still trying to get a grasp on the reality of this happening to me. I’m so very proud and so honored,” Anderson told the crowd in accepting the honor, thanking fans and people at the CMA and Hall of Fame. “Many, many people to thank along the way. This is an institution that preserves greatness and I know it is, because I have many dear friends who are in the Hall of Fame…. The fact that I get a chance to be amongst this kind of greatness, words can’t really explain for me how important it is. Music has been what keeps me driven since I was just a child and I have so much to be thankful for.”

Anderson released several singles in the 1970s, including 1979’s “Your Lying Blue Eyes” and “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” before issuing his debut album in 1980. Anderson’s penchant for shuffles, waltzes and ballads brought him his first top 5 Hot Country Songs hit with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday).” In September 1982, the title track for his album Wild and Blue was on point to become his first Hot Country Songs No. 1 (staying there for two weeks), when radio stations began also playing another song from the album. Three weeks after “Wild and Blue” hit No. 1, Anderson’s “Swingin’” hit the Hot Country Songs chart and 10 weeks later, became Anderson’s second No. 1 hit. “Swingin’” was honored as the single of the year at the 1983 CMA Awards, the same evening that Anderson took home the horizon award win. Between 1981 and 1983, Anderson earned six top 10 Hot Country Songs hits and three No. 1s on that chart. His singles began peaking lower on the chart in subsequent years, until his career came roaring back in the 1990s with songs including the Hot Country Songs No. 1 hits “Straight Tequila Night” and “Money in the Bank,” as well as the top 5 Hot Country Songs hit “I Wish I Could Have Been There.” Another of those ’90s hits, the No. 2 Hot Country Songs hit “Seminole Wind,” had an environmentally conscious bent. While Anderson wasn’t a writer on the song, he recognized its potential. “Seminole Wind” sold three million copies, becoming a career-defining song for Anderson. In addition to Anderson’s two 1980s CMA Awards, he participated in the 1994 album of the year win for Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, on which he covered “Heartache Tonight.” That same year, the Academy of Country Music honored him with its career achievement award. 

Jessica Nicholson
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