Music

Cindy Walker Inducted Posthumously Into Songwriters Hall of Fame

Legendary country songwriter Cindy Walker, whose most famous song is the cross-genre classic “You Don’t Know Me,” was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SHOF) in a special event on April 19 at historic Columbia Studio A in Nashville.

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The ceremony took place during a SHOF Master Session with Liz Rose, a 2023 SHOF inductee. Rose spoke fondly of her close relationship with the late songwriter and presented the award to Walker’s niece Molly Walker. Rose’s daughter Caitlin Rose performed “You Don’t Know Me,” which Walker co-wrote with Eddy Arnold, who had the initial hit with the song in 1956.

“This would’ve made her so proud,” Molly Walker said at the event. “And the thing that gets me is, when we hear Cindy’s songs, she’s still with us. I can’t tell you how much this would have meant to her and her family.”

The event was hosted by Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. It was co-hosted by SHOF board member Fletcher Foster, who chairs the SHOF Nashville Committee.

The annual SHOF gala in June does not normally include posthumous inductions – though this year’s inductees include Steely Dan, whose Walter Becker died in 2017. The SHOF prefers the June event to have a celebratory mood. But it intends to continue hosting posthumous inductions at unique venues and special events such as this one.

“The ceremony at Columbia Studio A was warm, intimate, and respectful,” Foster said in a statement. “SHOF president and CEO Linda Moran says this now sets the stage for future posthumous inductions.”

Walker, who died in 2006 at age 87, was in the first class of inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1997, she became the first female songwriter to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2009, Walker received the Poet’s Award from the Academy of Country Music.

In 2006, Willie Nelson’s album You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker, received a Grammy nomination for best country album. Fred Foster produced the album, which was released nine days before Walker’s death. The album included “Bubbles in My Beer,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Sugar Moon,” “I Don’t Care and “Cherokee Maiden.”

Walker’s first recorded song was “Lone Star Trail,” recorded by Bing Crosby, the top star of the era. She wrote 50 songs that were recorded by Bob Wills, dubbed “the King of Western Swing.”

Walker even had a hit record as an artist in 1944. “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Most Played Juke Box Folk Records, a forerunner to today’s Hot Country Songs.

Walker had numerous No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart across the decades, including “Sugar Moon” (Bob Wills, 1947), “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me” (Eddy Arnold, 1950), “Cherokee Maiden” (Merle Haggard, 1976) and “You Don’t Know Me” (Mickey Gilley, 1981).

Ray Charles recorded “You Don’t Know Me” on his landmark 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which topped the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks. Charles’ version of the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Walker’s many other hits include “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age” (Ernest Tubb & Red Foley, 1950), “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” (Roy Orbison, 1962) and “Bubbles in My Beer” and “Distant Drums” (Jim Reeves).

Walker unquestionably paved the way for such top contemporary country songwriters as Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey. The latter is another of this year’s SHOF inductees, along with the aforementioned Steely Dan plus Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley, Dean Pitchford and R.E.M.

In addition to these inductees, Diane Warren is set to receive the Johnny Mercer Award, the organization’s top honor, and SZA is set to receive the Hal David Starlight Award, which recognizes up-and-coming talent.

Walker was a solitary writer. She once explained her approach by saying, “Picasso doesn’t have a co-painter.” But if an artist gave her the idea or title for a song, she would include them in the credits, such as Eddy Arnold, who gave her the idea for “You Don’t Know Me.”

Walker shares that tendency to write solo with Warren, this year’s Mercer Award recipient. Warren collaborates on occasion, but more often than not, she works alone.

Given the threads that link Walker with some of this year’s other inductees and honorees, it’s a shame that her induction was handled separately. The idea should be to demonstrate the common threads that unite songwriters across genres and generations.

A BMI writer, Walker wrote every day, rising at 5 a.m. with a cup of black coffee to start the day in her writing studio. She once said she knew a song was finished “…once I was ready to fight a room full of tigers not to change a single word.”

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