Loretta Lynn, Recovering From Stroke, Surprises at Country Music Hall of Fame

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Lynn appeared at the ceremony to honor Alan Jackson, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

There is always a little bit of emotion involved with the annual Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Last year, the ceremony brought about one of the first major public appearances for Randy Travis since his stroke in 2013, with the singer evoking much emotion in the crowd by singing a small part of “Amazing Grace” to audiences. This year was no different, as Sunday evening’s ceremony was the first Music City appearance for Loretta Lynn since her stroke earlier this year, earning the legendary songstress a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. The appearance of the “Coal Miners’ Daughter” was at the request of Alan Jackson — one of three new inductees of the Hall’s 2017 class. Per Hall of Fame tradition, a veteran member of the Hall will officially welcome a new inductee, and Lynn was Jackson’s choice. 

Lynn’s appearance was just one of many magical moments during the annual installation of the new members — Jackson, Jerry Reed and Don Schlitz. Each of the inductees were saluted — first in word by Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young, and then in song from some of their contemporaries and admirers.

The first inductee was the late Jerry Reed. Young read a mini-biography of the Georgia native, who achieved success first as a songwriter — penning hits for acts such as Brenda Lee and Reed — then made a name for himself as one of the most influential guitar players of his time, playing on many of the top RCA Victor singles of the day. In fact, Presley was such a fan of Reed’s picking that one day he had Reed summoned from a fishing trip to play on one of his sessions. Signing with RCA as an artist in the 1960s, Reed clicked with such classics as “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “Amos Moses.” His star grew steadily throughout the 1970s, appearing in films such as Smokey and the Bandit and Gator. Reed was such a bankable name that he was also a guest star on an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, from which a clip played on a tribute video before his induction.

Paying homage to Reed, who passed away in 2008, were fellow guitarists Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel and John Knowles, who delivered a flawless take on Reed’s iconic instrumental “The Claw.” Fellow Georgian Ray Stevens joined in the tribute, adding the right touch of humor to “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” while Jamey Johnson — a Medallion Ceremony performance veteran — brought the house down with a faithful romp through “East Bound and Down,” a 1977 hit from Smokey.

Bobby Bare was chosen by Reed’s daughters to officially induct their father, and Seidina Hubbard and Lottie Zavala both offered loving tributes to Reed, with Zavala’s transcription of a conversation she had with her father shortly before his passing helping to set an emotional tone for the night.

Next up to be celebrated was Schlitz, one of Nashville’s most successful tunesmiths of all time. The story of Schlitz moving to Nashville was told, along with a clip of him receiving the CMA Song of the Year award for penning “The Gambler,” an iconic hit for Kenny Rogers in 1978. The North Carolina native was celebrated in song by frequent collaborator Mary Chapin Carpenter (“When You Say Nothing At All”), Charlie Worsham with Thom Schuyler, Fred Knobloch and Jelly Roll Johnson (“Oscar the Angel,” a song that appeared on Randy Travis’ 1994 set This Is Me), and international recording star Aloe Blacc teaming up with Vince Gill for a riveting performance of “The Gambler.” 

Gill then began to share memories of his three-decade friendship with Schlitz before bringing him to the stage to accept his medallion and view his plaque. Upon seeing it, he quipped “Well, they didn’t leave out the ‘L,’ in reference to his last name. Schlitz thanked mentors such as Bob McDill and Bill Anderson, and then struck one of the more meaningful moments of the night when he asked his two grandchildren to stand up and look around. He then asked those who had roles in his success to stand up, and with each designation, the entire room was on their collective feet. Schlitz told the crowd “This is what you call a circle...and how a songwriter gets a standing ovation.”

The final inductee of the evening was Jackson. A clip of Glen Campbell introducing him from a 1990 episode of Hee Haw was included in his video tribute, as it was wife Denise who told Campbell about her husband when she was working as an airline stewardess, and the legendary singer extended a helping hand. Many of Jackson’s most unforgettable moments were shown, including his 2001 performance of the just-written “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” 

There was no lack of star power in the three artists who paid tribute to the singer, with Lee Ann Womack offering a wistful performance of “Here in the Real World,” Alison Krauss and Emmanuel pairing for an emotional rendering of “Someday” and frequent duet partner George Strait closing out the tribute with a stirring take on “Remember When.” 

Lynn was then brought to the stage, and shared a memory of meeting the singer when he first started out, recalling how scared he'd seemed to be. She remembered that she told him he would become one of the greatest singers in country music, and looked at him and said, “You haven’t let me down.” Jackson then made the walk to the stage to address the crowd with a speech that recognized his family, crew and his fans. “I have seen some of the same faces for 20-something years,” he remarked while also giving props to longtime producer Keith Stegall by saying, “Keith was the only guy who would record me the way I wanted to be recorded.” In his typical soft-spoken style, the longtime Grand Ole Opry member stated “I’m just a singer of simple songs,” referencing a line from “Where Were You.”

The evening concluded with a Medallion Ceremony tradition — the entire audiences singing the Carter Family classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” with Lynn, Jackson, Strait and Connie Smith leading the crowd in song. It was a clear reminder of the greatness of the country format, and it came to a close with a late October rain.

A version of this story first appeared on Billboard.com

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