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Stuart, Dillon and Williams Are The Newest Country Music Hall of Famers

Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart and Hank Williams Jr.

A second-generation country music legend, a revered Music Row songwriter and the ultimate roots music polymath make up the 2020 class of inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Country Music Association announced early Wednesday that the Hall’s next set of plaques, coming this Fall, will feature Hank Williams Jr., Dean Dillon and Marty Stuart. 

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Dean, Marty and Hank Jr. into the unbroken circle and honor this revered milestone,” said Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer in a statement. “I’m sad we can’t toast this year’s class in person at the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I hope this news can bring some joy and cause for celebration during this time that our world has turned upside down.”

It’s as fascinating a mix as an all white and male roster could be in 2020, given that all are generational bridge-builders and genre synthesists who enriched country music without diluting it. Hank Williams Jr. is a story of outrageous career expectations, forging an identity while carrying a legacy and overcoming a near-death experience to unite Southern rock and country music. Dean Dillon was a natural, ushered into the songwriting world where his successes as an artist were dwarfed by his scores of songs for country’s greatest stars of the 1990s and 2000s. Marty Stuart, the inductee most closely associated with American roots music, has enhanced his own musical legacy by becoming an erudite spokesperson for the music’s history and values. 

Hank Jr. as he is universally known, is the first and only male child of American icon Hank Williams and his wife Audrey. Packaged as a mini-Hank for an army of posthumous Hank Sr. fans, he was tutored by country legends and started performing before age 10. After a difficult break from his mother and his imitative style, a mature artist emerged in his early 20s. Then his momentum was shattered when he fell almost 500 feet off a mountain in Montana. Post recovery, Hank Jr. forged a fully original sound that drew heavily on R&B and the blues, making common cause with the Southern rock scene. In a 50-plus-year career, he’s enjoyed more than 100 charting songs and 10 No. 1 country hits. 

Dean Dillon, born in East Tennessee in 1955, was inducted in a songwriter slot that cycles around every three years, and he’s been in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 2002. He got his first gig in Nashville as a teenager singing the role of Hank Williams at Opryland USA. As soon as he sang his original songs on the Row, he got published and recorded by Barbara Mandrell. Dillon barely cracked the top 25 as an artist, but his songs sped to to the top of the charts for others, George Strait especially. He’d pen ultimately more than 75 songs for the Texas star. Dillon’s crafty wordplay has been on big singles for Kenny Chesney, Lee Ann Womack, Pam Tillis, Toby Keith and more, and he’s still among the most coveted co-writers in town. 

Marty Stuart is a singular figure in country music, with a resume that includes super-picker, songwriter, band-leader, fashion icon, photographer, historian, collector, narrator, TV host and more. He was obsessed with the music as a boy in Philadelphia, MS and by 13 he was on the road with a steady job, playing mandolin for Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band. As a prodigy and devotee he worked with Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and others, but his solo career took a few starts to achieve mainstream success. That came in the 1990s, with the album and single “Hillbilly Rock,” followed soon by his duo “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” with Travis Tritt, a record that secured Stuart’s first Grammy Award. 

Through an era when country music softened up for an Adult Contemporary audience and rocked up for an arena show audience, Stuart made hard core country as he heard it, emphasizing, as he puts it, the heart before the chart. Twenty-one years ago, his major label swan song was a bold concept album called The Pilgrim, with potent songwriting and legendary guests including Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris. In 2002 he re-tooled as leader of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, a blazing band that’s issued exceptional roots albums celebrating themes like coal country, gospel and Native American heritage, while pursuing a new wave of psychedelic country rock that led to tours with the Byrds. Beyond that, Stuart is working toward opening an ambitious museum in his home town, and he was arguably the dominant interviewee in the recent Ken Burns series Country Music. 

Plans for a Hall of Fame induction ceremony are pending. 


Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org
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