Thursday, January 18, 2018

Will 2018 Be Dottie West’s Hall of Fame Year? By Ron Harman

Will 2018 Be Dottie West’s Hall of Fame Year?
By Ron Harman

Strong-willed and charismatic Dottie West was one of the female artists who blazed a new trail for women in country music, helping to shape the way women were, and continue to be, perceived in the industry. Her legacy among the first trendsetting women in country music is unquestioned, and her work stands on its own merit.

So why then, over 26 years after her untimely death, is Dottie West not honored in the Country Music Hall of Fame?

That question was prevalent at the “Dottie West Birthday Jam” which was held this past October at the Third & Lindsley music venue in Nashville.
Dottie had a sharp, keen eye for talent. She was instrumental in the careers of fellow Grand Ole Opry members Jeannie Seely, Larry Gatlin, and Steve Wariner.
“Dottie was one of the first artists to record one of my songs, and she encouraged me to move to Nashville,” notes Jeannie, who hosted the Dottie West Birthday Jam. “Those who knew Dottie remember her selfless demeanor and how she was always helping others,” Jeannie adds, “so it was only fitting that her Birthday Jam was a benefit to raise money for the Nashville Musicians Emergency Relief Fund.”

Larry Gatlin was among those to join Jeannie onstage at the October event honoring their longtime friend. In his 1998 autobiography Larry wrote: “She [Dottie] loved good songs and songwriters, and they all flocked to her – Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and Red Lane. I would soon become part of this crowd – the wildest and most talented bunch of songwriters I’ve ever seen – and I would meet them, all because of Dottie.”
Unable to attend the Birthday Jam in person, Steve Wariner addressed the crowd via a video message by saying, "You know, Dottie West knocked down a whole lot of doors that a lot of girl singers walked through later on, and I just hope they realize it. The first girl singer to win a Grammy in 1964, first female country artist. That is huge, and reason enough for me for her to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

Others performing at the Dottie West Birthday Jam included David Frizzell, Jimmy and Michele Capps, John Schneider, Tony Toliver, Dottie’s daughter Shelly West, her sons Kerry and Dale West, and her granddaughter Tess Frizzell.
Dottie was known for her heart-of-gold manner, and for feeding lonely or needy artists and songwriters her home-cooked meals. In her 2005 memoir Looking Back To See, Hall of Fame member Maxine Brown wrote: “Dottie was the only one who ever invited me and my children to her home for Sunday dinners. I’ve always been grateful for her kindness to my children and me.” Maxine, the only surviving member of The Browns, is among the many who have joined Steve, Jeannie, and Larry in support of Dottie’s Hall of Fame induction.
Also included on that list of supporters is the name of Kenny Rogers. In a 1978 press release for their duet album Every Time Two Fools Collide, Kenny credited Dottie with further establishing and cementing his career with country music audiences.
Fast forward 36 years to the opening of the Kenny Rogers exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Kenny addressed the crowd that evening by emphatically stating: "But mostly I want to go on the record right now saying, we need to get Dottie West in here. That girl deserves this, and if there's anything I can do, I'm gonna do it."

Dottie recorded duets with not only Kenny, but also with Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, and Jimmy Dean – and like Kenny, they all have plaques hanging in the Hall of Fame today.
Dorothy Marie Marsh grew up as a poor farm girl in little McMinnville, Tennessee. She had the guts and drive to become a music major at Tennessee Tech, then later began her quest in search of singing fame by landing a job at the Cleveland, Ohio, country TV show Landmark Jamboree.
During that time she would get to work with Opry singers and Nashville talent who would make guest appearances on the show. Dottie would later cite female stars of the day and future Hall of Famers Mother Maybelle Carter, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and Brenda Lee (another present-day supporter for Dottie’s Hall of Fame induction) as important teachers during that period of her life.
Dottie began writing songs in 1961, and her songwriting effort “Is This Me?” became a Top 5 hit for Jim Reeves. That led to a recording contract on RCA for Dottie and the beginning of her own hit-making career.
They called them “girl singers” when Dottie began her career in country music, and there weren’t many of them around. Women had an uphill fight, and Dottie was right there in the trenches. She became a pioneer in establishing females as both songwriters and solo vocalists, and she helped change the status from mere “pretty little girl” stage decoration to female headliner.

Dottie stepped into the solo limelight with her self-composed single “Here Comes My Baby,” which garnered her the first Grammy Award ever presented to a female country artist and led her way to membership in the Grand Ole Opry. What many don’t realize is that Dottie’s subsequent recordings earned her 15 additional Grammy nominations. That’s more nominations than even Elvis received.
Dottie’s motivation, determination, and frankness allowed her to break barriers for women in country music. “I don’t speak for others, though, I speak for me. I tell it like it is,” she once said. But in speaking for herself, she spoke for her generation of women.
In a 1985 interview, Dottie said, “Finally, they know that we can sell tickets to concerts and we can sell records.” And she did both. Dottie performed on stages everywhere from clubs, festivals, and county fairs, to casinos, cruise ships, arenas, and stadiums. Along the way she placed 63 records on Billboard’s country singles chart, including five No. 1 hits. She also charted 23 country albums as well.
Dottie appeared in stage productions, in motion pictures, and on television shows like Solid Gold, Midnight Special, The Love Boat, The Fall Guy, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Hollywood Squares, Hee Haw, American Music Awards, and many others. She rode on her own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, she was the ringmaster on a Circus of the Stars special, and she was a guest on TV shows hosted by John Davidson, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Glen Campbell, Barbara Mandrell, Ralph Emery, and others.
Dottie received a prestigious Clio advertising award for “Country Sunshine,” two CMA Awards, and several BMI Awards for her songwriting. In addition to Jim Reeves, Dottie’s songs have been recorded by Perry Como, Dean Martin, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, The Browns, Skeeter Davis, Tammy Wynette, Lorrie Morgan, and many others.
Dottie’s successful career took her though over 25 years of country stardom, through thousands of autographs and photos with fans, and through milestones, triumphs, and tragedies.
On September 4, 1991, Dottie died at the age of 58 as the result of injuries she had sustained in an automobile accident five days earlier on her way to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. At her funeral, Kenny Rogers said: “When she sang about pain, she felt pain; when she sang about love, she felt love; and when she sang about beauty, she felt that beauty. While some performers sang words, she sang emotions.”
On the 25th anniversary of Dottie’s accident, Jeannie Seely placed a wooden cross along the Briley Parkway exit ramp in memory of her close friend and mentor. The cross is one of the many Nashville reminders of Dottie’s legacy. Her Bob Mackie outfits are on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and in the Willie Nelson & Friends Museum, and she’s represented in an Opry exhibit at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. There’s a mosaic mural of Dottie made from guitar pics at the Famous Saloon which is co-owned by May West, Dottie’s granddaughter. A guitar with Dottie’s name on it sits in a case at Legend’s Corner on Broadway, and there’s a mural honoring Dottie at The Row restaurant located near Music Row.
What’s missing, though, is Dottie’s plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of people accepted country music who didn’t before because of performers who reached out to bigger audiences like Alabama, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, Dottie West, the Oak Ridge Boys, Randy Travis, George Strait, and Reba McEntire. With the exception of Dottie, all of those artists are now represented in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In the 1990s Garth Brooks continued to spread country music to wider audiences. After his 2012 Hall of Fame inductee announcement, Garth revealed in an interview that he actually attempted to turn his induction down, feeling that there were others that were more worthy than him. “I’m trying to enjoy the day,” Garth continued to explain, “and at the same time, all you can think about are the people that need to be in here that aren’t in here yet. So now it’s every Hall of Fame member’s job to make sure that we push and push to make sure all those people get in here…and they should have been here before Garth Brooks.”

Dottie knocked down doors in a “good ole boy” era that wasn’t readily going to let the girls in. Of the 133 current members in the Country Music Hall of Fame, 78% are males, 12% are duos or groups, and 10% are females. The last solo female artist to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was six years ago.

Dottie West was one of the most admired, talented, creative, identifiable, original, influential, giving, supportive, and impactful artists and entertainers in country music history. The Country Music Association (CMA) states their mission for the Hall of Fame is to recognize the most significant contributions to the advancement of country music. Hopefully that recognition will include the induction of Dottie West in 2018.
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