The son of a legend, Hank Jr. forged his own groundbreaking career, and Stuart, a child prodigy, has proven a quadruple threat as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer

By Nancy Kruh
August 12, 2020 02:00 PM
Hank Williams Jr., Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart
| Credit: Paul Hawthorne/Getty; Rick Diamond/Getty; Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

Hank Williams Jr. and Marty Stuart are already considered country music royalty. But now the two artists have finally reached the genre's crowning achievement: They're going into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The three-member class of 2020 is rounded out by songwriter Dean Dillon, known for such George Strait classics as "The Chair," "Ocean Front Property" and "Easy Come, Easy Go."

The Country Music Association revealed the names in a press release on Wednesday — a  much-anticipated moment that's been long overdue. The ongoing pandemic robbed the CMA of its ceremonial announcement, held in the spring in the plaque-filled rotunda of Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Williams, 71, is the son of Hank Williams, the "Hillbilly Shakespeare" who's considered among modern country's founding fathers. Hank Jr. lost his dad at age 3, but he continued to live in his enormous shadow, starting his career at age 8 by performing Hank Sr.'s timeless hits.

Chafing to make his own way, Williams re-invented himself at age 26 with the 1975 album Hank Williams Jr. and Friends, a classic of Southern rock sounds and renegade themes. Considered one of country's "outlaws," Williams put together a string of hits in the 1980s, including "Family Tradition" and "A Country Boy Can Survive." Football fans are probably most familiar with "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight," which became the theme for the NFL's "Monday Night Football" games, beginning in 1989.

Williams called the honor "a bright spot during a difficult year." In June, he lost his daughter, Katherine Williams-Dunning, in a one-car accident in east Tennessee.

"I’ve got to thank all those rowdy friends who, year after year, still show up for me," Williams added in the statement. "It’s an honor to carry on this family tradition."

Williams' father was among the first class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in 1961, but the Williams men aren't the first father and son to be in the hall together. That honor goes to Owen Bradley and Jerry Bradley, father-and-son producers who entered the hall 45 years apart.

Marty Stuart, whose country-loving mom named him after Hall of Fame member Marty Robbins, also started his career as a child: He was a Mississippi mandolin prodigy destined for stardom. At age 13, he joined bluegrass legend Lester Flatt's band. He later toured extensively with Johnny Cash before beginning his solo career in 1985. A quadruple threat — singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer — 62-year-old Stuart scored hits in the 1990s off popular albums Hillbilly Rock and Tempted.

A renowned collector of country-music memorabilia, he may be most familiar to today's fans as one of the historical interpreters featured in Ken Burns' 2019 documentary Country Music. Stuart also was introduced to new generations when he and his all-star band, the Fabulous Superlatives, toured with Chris Stapleton in 2018.

"To be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is beyond words," Stuart said in a statement. "I’m usually not at a loss for words.”

Stuart is married to Hall of Famer Connie Smith, making them the first husband and wife to enter the hall as solo artists. (Tammy Wynette and George Jones were divorced at the time of their inductions, and  June Carter still hasn't joined Johnny Cash in the hall, though country fans are still lobbying. )

A Hall of Fame induction ceremony is traditionally held in the museum's CMA Theater in October, but the CMA announcement said details about that event "will be released as information is available."