A massive stroke in 2013 left Randy Travis with a vocabulary limited mostly these days to “yes” and “no.” But on Tuesday, he haltingly coaxed out two more words – “thank you” – as he accepted country music’s highest honor: a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Struggling to say more, the 56-year-old artist finally motioned for his wife, Mary Davis-Travis, to take over what she herself called the “daunting task of being the voice of this man who so eloquently put words to melody to make beautiful music.”
The poignant moment capped the announcement of the Hall’s 2016 class, which also includes two other Nashville music legends: Charlie Daniels, the platinum-selling fiddler and singer best known for “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and producer and label owner Fred Foster, who was instrumental in the careers of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and Kris Kristofferson among other stars.
The announcement took place in the rotunda of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the home of the 127 plaques that honor Hall of Fame members. Travis was the last to be introduced, and he entered the room gingerly on the arms of his wife and longtime producer Kyle Lehning. In her introductory remarks, Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee let the crowd of a few hundred dignitaries and reporters know that walking has been a hard-won victory in Travis’ long road to recovery.
Travis’ groundbreaking career accomplishments over the course of three decades can be measured in his 16 No. 1 singles (including such classics as “On the Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” and “I Told You So”), as well as his multiple CMA, ACM, and Grammy awards.
But these days, his wife says, his accomplishments are measured in “what I call giant baby steps.”
“It’s the little things – the little word, the extra sound, the extra lap we make in rehab,” she said, speaking after the announcement with Travis seated by her side. “It’s certainly put life in perspective as far as what we need to focus on.”
Music, she added, “has been a huge part of the rehabilitation process. Music comes easier to him, as far as singing songs.” Last month, in fact, Travis honored a friend’s longtime request to sing “Amazing Grace” at his funeral. “I don’t know that he thought he was ready for it,” Davis-Travis said, “but he sang through all four verses. It was beautiful.”
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The couple, who reside in Texas, were surprised with the news of his Hall of Fame election during a Nashville visit last month. “I just lost it,” Davis-Travis said. Communicating with a gentle nod and a smile, Travis acknowledged he had tears, as well.
During the announcement, he softly sniffled through most of his wife’s remarks as she thanked “all the people … that gave him a chance, that helped him along the way, that believed in him.” Among those she included by name was Elizabeth (Lib) Hatcher, Travis’ former wife and former manager.
Davis-Travis’ description of her husband as being “honored beyond words” took on special meaning as he stood silently beside her in front of the crowd. Later, she said his goal is still to return to the stage one day or “at least to be able to communicate with his fans again.”
In the meantime, his body of work continues to speak volumes for him. “I don’t think he understands how important he has been to country music,” Davis-Travis said. “It’s that humility that’s in Randy that doesn’t allow him to think he made that big of a difference. When fans come over and talk to him and want his autograph, I say, ‘Honey, they love you so much.’ And he’s like, I don’t get it. Maybe now that he’s in the Hall of Fame, he’ll get it.”
Travis, Daniels and Foster will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony to be held this fall in the museum s CMA Theater.