Artists from all corners of the Christian music community gathered in Hendersonville on Tuesday to welcome the latest group of inductees into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
That group's impressive range was reflected in its two best-known inductees: "Queen of Soul" and Tennessee native Aretha Franklin (who was not in attendance) and country/bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, who sat front and center in the audience at Trinity Music City.
Skaggs told The Tennessean that joining the Hall of Fame was a special honor -- in part because he "never saw it coming."
"I'm a Christian, but I'm really a secular artist, more 'marketplace music' you would call it," he said. "So this one kind of really slipped up on me, and when I saw it come in, that they were honoring me, it was a special treat. It was such a shock, such a surprise."
Skaggs and Franklin were part of a broad group of inductees that also included singer-songwriter Dallas Holm, late television evangelist Rex Humbard, family vocal group the Hoppers and Christian rock trailblazers Love Song -- each of whom had clearly earned some famous fans over the years. Michael W. Smith and Dailey & Vincent were among those taking the stage to share kind words about the inductees, while performers including bluegrass band the Isaacs and gospel singer Dottie Peoples were part of individual musical tributes.
During the show - co-hosted by Christian music stars Jaci Velasquez and Jason Crabb - some inductees were moved to join in their own tributes, including the Hoppers, who took the stage side-by-side with Tennessee vocal group the Talleys.
"We believe in what we do, and as a family, we feel like our calling is to minister to the families, and to encourage them to love each other," said Kim Hopper. "We've tried to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and for people to say, 'Congratulations,' it's worth it all."
"This is unique, because we've got all genres of gospel here tonight," lead vocalist Dean Hopper told The Tennessean. "We're representing the southern gospel, maybe more traditional style of gospel, all the way through to the bluegrass style and the pop/rock field, so to be in this crowd tonight is very honorable."
That range spread all the way to the soulful side of gospel with Franklin, who was recognized for her gospel music contributions including her famed 1972 live album "Amazing Grace."
"When she did 'Amazing Grace,' she really set a precedent for real soul singing in gospel," said Nathan Young, who took part in Franklin's tribute with Suzanne Young, Dottie Peoples and vocal group Kairos.
Tuesday night's class joins more than 150 members the Gospel Music Hall of Fame has inducted since 1971, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, who incorporated gospel music into their respective genres. To Dailey & Vincent's Darrin Vincent, Skaggs has done the same in his own career.
"He's always included gospel music in everything he's ever done," he said. "If you go back to his country records, he's always stuck one (song) in there talking about his savior, Jesus Christ, and he deserves to be honored tonight."
Skaggs may have been surprised by the initial news of his induction, but the weight of the evening wasn't lost on him as he took the stage for an emotional acceptance speech.
"I've won lots of awards but nothing greater than this," he told the audience.