Garth Brooks, Connie Smith, Hargus 'Pig' Robbins Join Country Music Hall Of Fame

This appeared in The Tennessean - March 6, 2012

Garth Brooks fiddled with the buttons on his shirt backstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as he explained the big difference between himself and his fellow 2012 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees. In his mind, inductions for famed session player Hargus “Pig” Robbins and veteran country singer Connie Smith are long overdue.

Brooks thought his might be too soon.

“I feel honored and it’s kind of a mixed emotion of joy and a little bit of guilt,” he said before the announcement, his voice barely above a whisper. “I’m very happy because I didn’t expect it. I was stunned, I guess because if they just got around to Reba (McEntire) last year I thought it was going to be another 10 or 15 years and deservedly so before my name ever came up, if it ever did.”

The 2012 induction class was announced Tuesday in the rotunda of the Hall by freshly minted solo country singer Kix Brooks, formerly of Brooks & Dunn, who is also a member of the Country Music Association Board of Directors.

Garth Brooks, Robbins and Smith were all on hand to hear their names read, and while Brooks was surprised at his inclusion, Connie Smith said she and her country star husband Marty Stuart predicted the superstar’s entry long before the announcement.

“We thought through everybody and, I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be Garth. That’s good,’” Smith said.

However, she didn’t accurately predict her own inclusion.

“I’ve never been a career-oriented person,” she said after sharing the recent news of her eighth grandchild. “So, I can’t really say I aimed for this. In a way, it makes it more special.”

Connie Smith

Before Smith walked out on the arm of husband Marty Stuart, Kix called the 45-year Opry member one of the “prettiest, classiest ladies in this town” and quipped that Stuart “way over married.”

The couple walked out to a standing ovation. Stuart took a place beside Robbins, patted his back and whispered in his ear as his wife started to speak about her tenure in Nashville.

“On my very first session I remember we were recording and something messed up and (producer) Bob (Ferguson) said, ‘Can we take that from the turnaround?’ And I said, ‘What’s a turnaround?’” she recalled to laughs. “(The other singers) were laughing and I thought they were laughing at me, but now I understand when you get a greenhorn this green; it’s kind of cute.”

Smith will be inducted as a “Veterans Era Artist,” a category is open to singers 45 years after they first reach national prominence.

Smith, 70, has long been considered one of the genre’s most stellar voices. In 2002, CMT ranked Smith at No. 9 on their list of The Forty Greatest Women in Country Music. The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards called Smith “the real deal” and Dolly Parton counts herself as one of Smith’s biggest fans.

Click to see a gallery of Connie Smith over the years (photo: Russ Harrington)

“You know, there’s really only three female singers in this world,” Parton once said, “Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are only pretending.”

Smith was born in Elkhart, Ind., and discovered by Bill Anderson at age 22 performing a Jean Shepard song in an Ohio talent contest. In early 1964, the pair met again and Anderson invited her to Nashville to sing on Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree. That was in March, and in May she returned to Music City to record a demo, which Anderson, along with his manager Hubert Long, used to convince Chet Atkins to sign Smith to RCA Victor Records.

Her first single “Once a Day,” which featured fellow inductee Robbins on piano, was soon released and became an eight-week No. 1 song. “Once a Day” was the first time a debut single from a female country artist had topped the charts.

Her self-titled debut album was released in 1965, and by this time Smith’s soaring voice had already made her a bonafide star. Smith went on to rack up 30 Top 20 hits. She semi-retired in 1979 to raise her five children.

By the early ’90s, Smith refocused on her career, signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and started working with Stuart as her producer. The two fell in love while working together and were married in 1997. Last year, Smith released her 53rd album Long Line of Heartaches, which Stuart also produced.

“I’ve loved country music as long as I can remember,” Smith said. “To come to town and get inducted into the Opry in 1965, all I wanted to do was hear my record on the radio.”

Smith and Brooks have more in common than the country music genre and their induction class. Like Smith, Brooks also took time off to be a parent. But as Kix Brooks pointed out, the superstar entertainer racked up quite a history of record-breaking stats.

By Cindy Watts

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