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On Sunday night at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame’s annual gala, five new members were officially inducted into the exclusive circle: Ronnie Dunn, K.T. Oslin, Byron Hill, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Joe Melson. 

“I didn’t see this one coming,” Dunn said of his induction. As one-half of Brooks and Dunn, he wrote some of the country duo’s biggest hits, including 1990s chart-toppers “Neon Moon” and “She’s Not the Cheatin’ Kind.” He added, “This is special. This is the one that’ll kind of hang around after I’m gone.”

On the red carpet, he reminisced about the first time he heard one of his songs on the radio. While driving from Oklahoma to Nashville, Brooks and Dunn’s debut single “Brand New Man” came on and he immediately had to pull his Ford Explorer to the side of the road. 

Melson, this year’s inductee in the veteran songwriter category, knows the feeling. “That’s the biggest thrill, to hear your song on the radio,” he said. He is known for his work with Roy Orbison, including the sweeping, soaring classics “Only the Lonely,” “Crying” and “Blue Bayou.” 

It’s “Only the Lonely” that Melson is proudest of: “When I heard it, I thought, ‘You know, that song might sell a couple hundred thousand copies…It went way beyond that. That sucker went all around the world.”

“I’m just wowed by it all,” laughed veteran songwriter/artist inductee K.T. Oslin on the red carpet. “Why am I here and how did I get here?”

She got there by writing hits like “‘80s Ladies” (which was named the 1988 CMA Song of the Year, making Oslin the first female songwriter to win that award), the Grammy-winning “Hold Me,” and “Do Ya.” Her work has influenced singer-songwriters like Brandy Clark, who performed “’80s Ladies” in Oslin’s honor at the gala.

During the induction announcements in August, Oslin revealed that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. It has kept her from songwriting, but, she said, “I’d like to get back to it very much.”  

For Kirkpatrick, being tapped for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame is “the icing on an already big cake. Quite unexpected, but I’m so grateful.” His songs have been played everywhere from Lower Broad to Broadway. His credits include songs recorded by Amy Grant (“Wise Up”) Michael Smith (“Place in This World”), Eric Clapton (“Change the World”) and Little Big Town (“Boondocks”).

He also co-wrote music and lyrics for the musical “Something Rotten!” which debuted on Broadway in 2015, and is currently working on a musical version of the Robin Williams movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” with his “Something Rotten!” collaborators, brother Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.

Like Kirkpatrick, Hill was inducted in the songwriter category. Since moving to Nashville in May 1978, the North Carolina native has co-written songs that have been recorded by George Jones (“High Tech Redneck”), George Strait (“Fool Hearted Memory”) and Alabama (“Born Country”), and featured on the television show “Nashville.” 

“This is pretty amazing,” Hill said before the gala. “I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’m still here and I’m still doing it and I’m still loving it. I still love Music Row…To me, it’s always been a monument.”

On Sunday, country star Reba McEntire was presented with the NaSHOF’s inaugural Career Maker Award, which honors artists who have had a significant influence upon the songwriting careers of Hall of Fame members.

Over the course of her career, said Pat Alger, the board chair of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation, McEntire has recorded songs by “45 members of the Hall of Fame, and there’s only really about 210 members, so that’s pretty astounding.”

Perhaps that number will increase soon. On the red carpet, McEntire said she is currently working on a new album, due out “the first part of next year” with producer Buddy Cannon. 

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