CMA Announces Eddie Bayers, Ray Charles, Pete Drake And The Judds As The Country Music Hall Of Fame Class Of 2021

CMA held a virtual announcement this morning to reveal the 2021 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame – Eddie BayersRay CharlesPete Drake and The Judds.

Bayers and Drake tied and will both be inducted in the “Recording and/or Touring Musician” category, which is awarded every third year in rotation with the “Non-Performer” and “Songwriter” categories. Charles will be inducted in the “Veterans Era Artist” category and The Judds will be inducted in the “Modern Era Artist” category. Country Music Hall of Fame member Reba McEntire delivered the news via livestream on CMA’s YouTube channel.

“The works of this year’s inductees span crucial timestamps of Country Music history,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “This impressive career landmark is the pinnacle of accomplishment in Country Music and I’m so proud to see Eddie, Ray, Pete, Naomi and Wynonna getting their much-deserved plaques on the wall of the Rotunda. Today’s fans and generations to come will forever be reminded of the distinct impact each made on this genre.”

“My heartfelt thanks to those who voted for me,” says Bayers. “I’ve been blessed to be a recording musician for 58 years, and it continues. I’ve been in the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Band for 18 years, and it continues. I’ve been in the Opry Band for 18 years, and it continues. Now I’m blessed to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which will be everlasting.”

“I’d like to thank everyone who voted to induct Ray Charles into the Country Music Hall of Fame,” says Valerie Ervin, Ray Charles Foundation President. “Needless to say, Ray Charles loved Country Music. As a matter of fact, he risked a lot in 1962 when he decided to record Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. I cannot express enough how happy and honored Ray Charles would be at this moment in time, as I am for him. Congratulations to all the fellow inductees and as Ray Charles would say, ‘That is so nice.’”

“I am so happy for Pete to receive this well-deserved honor,” says Drake’s widow, Rose Drake, on behalf of the family. “We are deeply touched and honored for the great recognition of this unique and talented icon that enriched so many illustrious recordings with his special steel guitar tone and sound that distinguished itself, in hundreds of successful recordings.”

“When we moved to Nashville in the late 70s, still struggling to make ends meet and dressing Wy and Ashley in thrift store dresses, I could’ve never imagined the success we achieved as The Judds,” says Naomi Judd. “I am beyond thrilled and humbled for this incredible recognition. There’s no greater pinnacle in Country Music than the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

“This moment takes me back to 1983 when Mom and I first started,” says Wynonna Judd. “We would get in the car and visit multiple radio stations a day. It kind of feels like I’ve hit the lottery. It is so surreal. John Lennon always said that he just wanted to be remembered, and now we’re truly part of history, or I should say HERstory. What an honor.”

“These people saw through artificial divisions, moved beyond rigid stylistic restrictions, and connected with worldwide audiences,” says Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum Chief Executive Officer. “In revealing their individuality, they taught us about commonality. Lately, we’ve lived through a time of division and a time of isolation. But in the music of these greats, we find connection and inclusion.”

A formal induction ceremony for Bayers, Charles, Drake and The Judds will take place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater at a to-be-determined date. The induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which includes Dean DillonMarty Stuart and Hank Williams Jr., is scheduled for this November, pending public health guidance and the state of the pandemic. Since 2007, the Museum’s Medallion Ceremony, a reunion of the Hall of Fame membership, has served as the official rite of induction for new members.

Recording and/or Touring Musician – Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake (tie)

Eddie Bayers
Eddie Bayers has been a first-call drummer in Nashville for nearly 50 years, so it’s appropriate that he’ll be the first drummer inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Recording and/or Touring Musician category. Bayers has been an indispensable part of the musical foundation during Country Music’s most commercially successful years. Laying down the groove on some 300 Gold and Platinum records, he is the beat behind some of Country’s most popular artists and leaves an enduring impact on the industry as a whole.

Born January 28, 1949, in Patuxent River, MD, Bayers was the youngest of three children.

Bayers fell in love with music at an early age, though drums were not his first instrument. He initially studied classical piano and took a job playing organ in a rock band on the Jersey Shore. He played both keyboards and drums for a while in a New Jersey show band called Big Bear Revue before accepting an offer to move to Las Vegas. There he reconnected with a friend from Nashville, Brent Maher, who would be influential in his career when both eventually landed back in Music City.

First, though, Bayers moved to California’s Bay Area, playing with gospel musicians Edwin and Walter Hawkins and falling in with a group of musicians that included the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Tom Fogerty and Doug Clifford. During that time, he sang on solo albums by Fogerty and Clifford, as well as one from Jefferson Airplane members Paul Kantner and Grace Slick.

Seeking more opportunities as a professional musician, Bayers moved to Nashville in 1974, living for a while in his car. He auditioned for a spot as a keyboard player at the Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley and wound up playing in a quartet with drummer Larrie Londin, who had played on many Motown Records sessions before settling in Nashville. Under Londin’s mentorship, Bayers transitioned from keyboards to drums, the Carousel gig sustaining him as he developed his drumming skills.

Bayers eventually moved into studio work, with early sessions playing for Anne Murray, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Rich, and others, including Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs album. Maher brought him in to play on demos for a mother-daughter duo. Those sessions formed the core of The Judds’ debut EP, 1983’s Wynonna & Naomi, and Bayers ended up being the only drummer for every studio album his fellow Hall of Famers recorded, and continued to record with Wynonna Judd when she launched her solo career.

Bayers’ career nearly came to a halt in 1985, when he crushed his left wrist in a car accident. Bayers was unable to play for several months and eventually had to relearn how to play his instrument. Once again, Maher came through with a key opportunity, bringing Bayers in to gauge his progress in secret recording sessions that became part of the Judds’ 1987 Heartland album.

As was the case with The Judds, many of the artists who hired Bayers to play on their early albums returned to him again and again. Bayers developed longstanding working relationships with artists like Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney, recording with them over a series of albums and hits.

Other Country acts who have employed Bayers on their records include Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, George Jones, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette and Trisha Yearwood. Beyond Country, he has recorded with acts such as The Beach Boys, John Fogerty, Mark Knopfler, Richard Marx, Aaron Neville, Stevie Nicks, Bob Seger and Steve Winwood.

He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry’s House Band since 2003 and received a 2004 GRAMMY nomination as part of The Notorious Cherry Bombs. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Medallion All-Star Band.

Bayers was named the Academy of Country Music’s top drummer 14 times between 1991 and 2010, including an 11-year stretch where he won every year. The Country Music Association has nominated him for Musician of the Year 10 times. DRUM magazine named him one of the Top 10 Session Drummers of All Time, and he is a member of Modern Drummer magazine’s Honor Roll. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum honored him as one of its “Nashville Cats” in 2010. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019.

Bayers’ impact on the music industry has been felt far beyond the drummer’s stool. He has worked with students and faculty at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, which bestowed its American Master Award on him in 2015. He has also served multiple terms on the Board of Trustees for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

Pete Drake
Country Music as the world knows it wouldn’t sound like Country Music without the pedal steel guitar. And the pedal steel wouldn’t sound like pedal steel without Pete Drake.

Drake helped define the sound of the pedal steel on some of Country Music’s most enduring hits, among them Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

He was born Roddis Franklin Drake in Augusta, GA, on October 8, 1932. Brothers Bill and Jack were also musicians, playing together as the Drake Brothers; later, Jack played bass for Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. However, young Pete’s real inspiration came from watching Jerry Byrd play lap steel on the Grand Ole Opry. Drake went back to Georgia and bought a single-neck Supro lap steel for $39 at a pawnshop. As he heard and saw players like Leon McAuliffe adding pedals and necks, he built his own instrument, one that had four necks and a single pedal. He also formed a band in Atlanta called Sons of the South, which counted Jerry Reed, Roger Miller, Jack Greene, Doug Kershaw and Joe South among its members at one point or another.

In 1959, Drake moved to Nashville with the goal of playing on the Opry, as his hero Byrd had. He backed Don Gibson, Marty Robbins and Carl and Pearl Butler, but he didn’t take to road life, so he decided to stay in Nashville and try to become a session musician.

One night, while Drake was playing for Carl and Pearl Butler at the Opry, Roy Drusky heard him and asked him to play on an upcoming session. The song they cut that day, “Anymore,” became the first hit to feature Drake’s steel, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Drake quickly became known as part of Nashville’s A-Team of session players, and estimated that he regularly played on three sessions a day, five days a week. As his studio bookings increased, Drake bought a Nash Rambler, giving him a place that he could nap for an hour or so between sessions on Music Row.

Drake could make the pedal steel sing, moving a bar across its strings to make it swoop and sigh, and pressing its pedals or squeezing its knee levers to make it moan. The pedal steel, Drake liked to say, was the closest instrument to the human voice.

Not only could he make the pedal steel sing, but he could also make it talk. Literally. After seeing a film with musician Alvino Rey and his “talking” steel guitar, Drake developed one of his own.

Drake used his “talk box” on station breaks for Nashville radio station WSM-AM and on records like Roger Miller’s “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” and Jim Reeves’ “I’ve Enjoyed as Much of This as I Can Stand.”

In 1966, Drake played on sessions for Elvis Presley’s How Great Thou Art album. He also appeared on the soundtracks for Presley films “Spinout,” “Easy Come, Easy Go,” “Double Trouble,” “Clambake” and “Speedway,” work that opened doors to acceptance in the pop and rock realm.

He played on Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, recorded in Nashville in 1967, as well as on Dylan’s subsequent albums, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait. The Dylan recordings led to an invitation from George Harrison to fly to London and play on sessions for his All Things Must Pass album. At those sessions, Drake met a 20-year-old Peter Frampton and demonstrated his talk box for the fascinated young guitarist (Frampton would take the effect to multi-Platinum heights a few years later on records like “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do”). Drake also invited Ringo Starr to Nashville and, within a matter of days, was producing Starr’s Beaucoups of Blues album with Country musicians, marking the first time a Beatle had recorded in the United States.

The Country sessions continued, as well, with Drake playing on records by artists including Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Milsap, the Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, The Statler Brothers, Hank Williams Jr. and Ray Charles. During his lifetime, Drake played on 118 Gold and Platinum albums, but his impact was felt beyond the recording sessions on which he played.

Drake was inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987. The following year, on July 29, Drake died at his Brentwood, TN home due to complications from emphysema. He was posthumously inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame (2007) and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2010).

Drake is the first pedal steel player to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Recording and/or Touring Musician category.

Veterans Era Artist – Ray Charles
With one album, Willie Nelson has said on more than one occasion, Ray Charles did more for Country Music than any single artist has ever done. The album, of course, was 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Though it remains Charles’ best-known album, it was far from his only foray into Country Music; it wasn’t even his first. The Genius of Soul’s love of Country Music goes back to his earliest days.

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, GA, in 1930 but raised across the state line in Greenville, FL, where juvenile glaucoma took his eyesight by age 7. During the school year, he attended St. Augustine’s State School for Blind and Deaf Children. There, he studied Mozart, Chopin and Bach and when he got to stay up past nine o’clock on a Saturday night, he tuned into the Grand Ole Opry to hear Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones and Eddy Arnold.

“I could hear what they were doing and appreciate the feeling behind it,” Charles said in his autobiography.

From Florida, Charles headed west. He made his first records for the Swing Time and Down Beat labels. His records began charting nationwide once he signed with Atlantic Records in 1952, first on the R&B charts (“I’ve Got a Woman,” “A Fool for You,” “Drown in My Own Tears”), then on the pop charts (“Night Time Is the Right Time,” “What’d I Say”).

Charles began to show his affinity for Country after his national breakthrough with “What’d I Say.” For his follow-up, he recorded a rave-up cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 Country smash “I’m Movin’ On.” It reached No. 40 on Billboard’s pop chart and No. 11 on the R&B chart. It was also his last charting single for Atlantic. He soon signed with ABC-Paramount, where he had his first chart-topping pop hits with “Georgia on My Mind” in 1960 and “Hit the Road, Jack” in 1961.

Having finally established himself as a national act — and with his contract up for renewal — Charles decided to test his label’s faith: He would record an album of Country songs. ABC’s president, Sam Clark, warned Charles that he might lose fans with such a concept. Charles, who’d seen white singers cover Black artists with great success, figured he could flip the script and gain more fans than he’d lose. His prediction turned out to be accurate.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music became Charles’ first album to top Billboard’s pop albums chart. It spent 14 weeks at No. 1, an achievement it would take a Country album from Nashville 30 years to match.

Charles’ 12 selections for the album spanned three decades of Country songs, from Floyd Tillman’s late-1930s favorite “It Makes No Difference Now,” to Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love,” which already had a track record with crossing formats, having been a Top 5 hit in pop, Country and R&B. That made it perfect for Charles, who was looking for standards, or songs that could become standards. He picked songs associated with Arnold and Hank Williams, as well as a Don Gibson B-side called “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

“I Can’t Stop Loving You” spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, Charles’ third — and biggest — chart-topper. It sold so briskly that one Atlanta distributor told Billboard that “people who don’t even own record players are buying it.”

Charles released another dozen songs, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volume 2, which included covers of Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine,” Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Fred Rose and Hy Heath’s “Take These Chains From My Heart,” which Williams also recorded.

The Modern Sounds albums’ across-the-board success changed the way the world saw Nashville and the way Nashville saw the world. Charles’ big-band and string-and-voice arrangements gave Nashville’s producers and arrangers a new palette. Nashville publishers found fresh markets for their catalogs as other pop and R&B singers sought to replicate Charles’ approach.

Charles also showed the full magnitude of commercial potential Country Music had when racial and stylistic barriers between the music and the audience were stripped away.

“After hearing him, people were more prepared for Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard — and Loretta Lynn,” Lynn wrote in her autobiography, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “I don’t think he’s ever gotten the credit he deserves from Nashville.”

Charles returned time and again to Country’s catalog with remakes of Buck Owen’s “Crying Time” and “Together Again” and albums like 1965’s Country and Western Meets Rhythm and Blues and 1970’s Love Country Style. Despite his track record of success with the material, Charles didn’t appear on the Billboard Country singles charts as an artist until more than 30 years into his recording career (though Jerry Lee Lewis did manage a modest hit by covering Charles’ “What’d I Say” in 1961).

In the early 1980s, the head of CBS Records’ Nashville division, Rick Blackburn signed Charles to Columbia Records. He’d made modern sounds with Country and Western music, now he wanted to make modern Country sounds. It was a “lifelong dream,” he told journalist Robert K. Oermann, “to do Country Music with Country people.” He released a half-dozen albums for Columbia between 1983 and 1988, including his 1985 No. 1 duet with Willie Nelson, “Seven Spanish Angels.”

The following year, Charles was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1987, he received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. Charles won 17 GRAMMYs across 44 years, including Best Rhythm and Blues Recordings for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Crying Time” and his version of Harlan Howard’s “Busted.” He was also nominated for two CMA Awards in 1985, the CMA Horizon Award and CMA Vocal Duo of the Year with Willie Nelson for their duet, “Seven Spanish Angels.”

Eight of his GRAMMYs came posthumously. Charles died of liver cancer on June 10, 2004, shortly after completing an album of duets called Genius Loves Company that would go on to win Album of the Year at the GRAMMYs. True to form, he gave Country a prominent role in the project.

During a recording career that spanned more than 50 years, Charles rarely conformed to anyone else’s notions about Country Music, how it should sound, or how it could sell. His genius extended beyond Country Music, but it always included it. And when Charles performed Country and Western music, he didn’t just create modern sounds. He created timeless ones.

Modern Era Artist – The Judds 
Country Music has a long history of family ties, and the genre has never had another family like The Judds. One of the most successful duos in Country Music history, mother Naomi and daughter Wynonna scored 20 Top 10 hits, including 14 No. 1s, between 1984 and 1991. Those recordings —“Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘bout the Good Old Days)” among them —stood out not only because of Wynonna’s disarming voice and Naomi’s unique approach to harmonies but also for their way of combining folk, bluegrass and blues into a sound like nothing else at the time.

Naomi — born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946 — grew up in Ashland, KY, the daughter of a filling-station owner and his wife. She married as a teenager and had two daughters, Christina and Ashley Ciminella. Following a move to California and a divorce, Diana raised her daughters in California. As part of a fresh start, all three took Diana’s maiden name. Diana and her older daughter changed their first names, as well. Diana became Naomi, a biblical figure she admired, and Christina became Wynonna, using an adapted spelling of Winona, the northern Arizona town mentioned in the song “Route 66.”

Naomi financed the family’s move to Nashville by renting her restored 1957 Chevrolet — the same she’d drive from California to Tennessee — for use in “More American Graffiti” and by securing roles for her and Wynonna in the film. They made the move in 1979, and Naomi took a job as a nurse at Williamson County Medical Center. In early 1980, she and a 15-year-old Wynonna began appearing in the early mornings on WSM-TV’s “The Ralph Emery Show.” Emery dubbed them the “Soap Sisters” after Naomi told him she made her own lye soap.

Their break came via a chance encounter with Nashville producer Brent Maher, whose teenage daughter — a schoolmate of Wynonna’s — was injured in a car accident. Maher had seen the Soap Sisters’ television performances and recognized Naomi, one of his daughter’s nurses. When Maher’s daughter was dismissed from the hospital, Naomi gave Maher a tape she and Wynonna had made on a portable tape recorder in their kitchen. Maher began working with the two singers and, following a live audition in the offices of RCA Records’ Nashville office, they secured a recording deal with RCA Records/Curb Records.

The Judds made their debut in late 1983 with “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” a B-side for Elvis Presley seven years before. It began with a simple guitar strum, followed by a line of a cappella vocal from Wynonna. The record only cracked the Top 20, but the record’s less-is-more approach made the necessary impression. The follow-up, “Mama He’s Crazy,” went straight to No. 1, immediately making The Judds Country Music’s most successful mother-daughter act since Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters. “Mama He’s Crazy” was the first of eight straight chart-toppers for the duo and earned Naomi and Wynonna their first of five GRAMMY Awards.

On the strength of “Mama He’s Crazy” and the six-song Wynonna & Naomi EP, The Judds won the Horizon Award at the 1984 CMA Awards ceremony (where Naomi famously began her acceptance speech by exclaiming, “Slap the dog and spit in the fire!”). They released their first full-length album, Why Not Me, the following week.

The Judds went on to win nine CMA Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music, dominating both organizations’ vocal duo categories through the 1980s. In 1986, The Judds received their first of three CMA Awards nominations for Entertainer of the Year, making 22-year-old Wynonna the youngest person ever to be nominated for the honor. She held that distinction for more than 20 years.

Between 1984 and 1991, The Judds released six studio albums and an EP, their stripped-back style helping revive the popularity of acoustic sounds in Country Music and opening up the genre for more traditional approaches.

In October 1990, Naomi announced her retirement from performing due to chronic hepatitis. That retirement would come after the 124-date Love Can Build a Bridge Farewell Tour, which wrapped December 4, 1991, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. They have occasionally reunited since then, notably for the 1994 Super Bowl halftime show, a 2000 reunion tour, a 2008 performance at the Stagecoach Festival and the Last Encore Tour in 2010-2011.

Following the Love Can Build a Bridge Farewell Tour, Naomi and Wynonna pursued separate career paths. Wynonna launched a solo recording career with three No. 1 singles and a 5x Platinum album, Wynonna, in 1992. Naomi published her autobiography, “Love Can Build a Bridge,” in 1993. Wynonna published her own memoir, “Coming Home to Myself,” in 2005. Naomi pursued acting and television, hosting a talk show and serving as a judge and mentor on an entertainment competition series.

Together, the Judds have 16 Gold, Platinum, and multi-Platinum albums and longform videos, led by 2x Platinum albums Why Not Me and The Judds Greatest Hits. Wynonna has another half-dozen albums and videos certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.

During 2018-2019, Naomi and Wynonna were the subjects of the Country Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit, “The Judds: Dream Catchers,” which followed the duo from their beginnings in Eastern Kentucky to the peak of their careers. At the time, museum CEO Kyle Young quoted “A Million Miles to the City,” a song by another Kentuckian, Tom T. Hall, adding that the tale of The Judds was “a million-mile story, told with heart and soul, about a miraculous, fortunate and harmonious journey.”

In her autobiography, Naomi wrote of her first visit to Music Row and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, saying, “It was as if we’d entered the pearly gates and were riding down streets of gold” and comparing the Hall to “a cathedral filled with holy relics.”

Now she and Wynonna have found a permanent home in the cathedral.

Eddie Bayers will join the Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2021 in the Recording and/or Touring Musician category.
Photo credit: Rick Malkin
Pete Drake will join the Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2021 in the Recording and/or Touring Musician category.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Rose Drake
Ray Charles will join the Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2021 in the Veterans Era Artist category.
Photo credit: Courtesy of The Ray Charles Foundation
The Judds will join the Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2021 in the Modern Era Artist category.
Photo credit: Kristin Barlowe
The Country Music Association held a virtual announcement this morning to reveal the 2021 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame – Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake (tied for Recording and/or Touring Musician), Ray Charles (Veterans Era Artist) and The Judds (Modern Era Artist).
Photo credit: CMA