NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - In what host Kix Brooks called a "bittersweet" moment, Reba McEntire joined Jean Shepard and Bobby Braddock as the latest inductees into The Country Music Hall of Fame on Tuesday morning. But country's reigning queen was at her father's side and couldn't make it to the celebration.
Clark McEntire is in a coma in a Tulsa, Okla., hospital. McEntire was able to share the news of her induction with her father before a stroke left him gravely ill. She sent a note to be read by her good friend Brooks during a news conference at the hall of fame and museum.
"I really need to be with my mama and daddy right now," McEntire wrote. "I know it's where I should be. Thanks again for this wonderful honor. By the way, I told daddy about being inducted two days before he went into the coma. It's a huge blessing for me knowing how important that was to him. Love you all, Reba."
While emotionally difficult, it was a triumphant day for the women of country music and for songwriters, the lifeblood of the genre. Shepard was among the first pioneering women to clear the way for performers like McEntire to reinvent country music from a woman's perspective. Even Braddock helped raise the lot of women in the male-dominated genre, penning some of Tammy Wynette's classic songs.
"I look around here in this rotunda and all I see is 90 percent men," a spunky 77-year-old Shepard said as she took the stage. "Where's the ladies?"
Shepard and McEntire will go a long way to filling that void. In many ways they served the same role, though in vastly different times.
Shepard, known as "The Grand Lady of The Grand Ole Opry" as she enters her 56th year on the show, paired with fellow Hall of Fame member Ferlin Husky in 1953 on "A Dear John Letter," her first No. 1 country hit. The song went to No. 4 on the Billboard pop chart and made her the first million-selling female artist in the post-World War II era.
Shepard was an early archetype for women in country music, choosing to tour as a solo act rather than as part of a group and presenting a strong female point of view in songs like "Twice the Lovin' in Half the Time" and "The Root of All Evil (Is a Man)" that influenced such key figures in country music as Loretta Lynn. She also is credited with releasing country music's first concept album, "Songs From a Love Affair." Her debut record's 12 songs all deal with an affair that tears apart a marriage.
McEntire picked up where Shepard, Lynn, Wynette and Dolly Parton left off, making her mark over a 35-year career that has included a little bit of everything and taken her into territory not normally open to the women of country. She was named country music's top female hitmaker not long ago and remains a dynamo, selling more than 55 million albums and recently scoring her 35th No. 1 hit.
The fiery redhead has carved out an enviable and unique career that goes far beyond music. She's had her own television show. She stormed Broadway in "Annie Get Your Gun." And she is a role model as both an artist and a businesswoman for a wave of young female stars who are following her example, defined by hard work and an independent streak.
It's likely she would have achieved little of that without the early help of her father.
"She was just saying last night how weird is the word she used that the guy who patted her on the back and drove her to all those rodeos and county fairs in the car and was her most supportive bystander, she really wanted to be here with him today," Brooks said. "And instead she's in Tulsa with him today."
Brooks also is close with Braddock, and noted that Braddock was already known as a veteran with a long list of hits behind him when Brooks joined his publisher, Sony's Tree Publishing Co., 30 years ago.
Braddock is the first inductee in the new songwriter category, joining just four other pure songwriters in the Hall of Fame. He's written or co-written hits for Wynette, George Jones and Toby Keith among many others in a career of 50-plus years. Nine of his songs have been played more than 1 million times on the radio and two - Keith's "I Wanna Talk About Me" and Tracy Lawrence's "Time Marches On" - have been played more than 3 million times.
He penned the iconic songs "He Stopped Loving Her Today" for Jones, which won the Country Music Association's song of the year two years in a row, and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" for Wynette. He also helped launch the career of current CMA male vocalist of the year Blake Shelton as a producer.
"Bobby is one of those true geniuses," Brooks said. "That word is thrown around, but having written with him, the things that come out of his mouth after being filtered through his brain, you go, 'How did that happen? Where do you come up with that stuff.' He is so good, and at the same time so completely unassuming and humble about the talent he has."
The 70-year-old Braddock took the stage with an embarrassed smile and joked with a beaming Brooks.
"Oh, gosh, are you sure?" he asked. "... I'm still just wondering if someone's made a mistake. We songwriters are used to being low profile and traveling under the radar. We're not used to all this excitement."
McEntire, Shepard and Braddock will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame at a ceremony later this year.