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Keith Urban Opry Induction: Singer Becomes First Member From Outside North America

Chris Hollo

Last night (April 21), the legendary Grand Ole Opry added another unique voice to its heritage with the induction of Keith Urban‘s “southern hemisphere” — his words — accent. Nine-year Opry member Trace Adkins (with Josh Turner by his side) welcomed the New Zealand-born and Australia-raised guitar slinger into the elite group, making him the first member from outside North America. (Watch video of the induction below.)

As he prepared to accept the honor, Keith reflected on his perception of the show that made country music famous, never having been able to hear or see it from abroad.

“It is right on to what I imagined in my head that it would be like,” he told reporters backstage before the induction. “There’s a community simplicity about it that I was really hoping that’s what it would be like backstage. I grew up playing in all these country music festivals all around Australia, in Tamworth in particular, which is the country music capitol of Australia. The culture, if you will, of country music and the people, the fans, the artists, I find basically the same in Australia, here, when we travel over to Europe. There’s a certain way of being that is really what the music is about.”

The “For You” singer couldn’t contain his excitement, though, when he graced the center of the Opry stage and his induction became official.

“Thank you very much! Yee haw! That is awesome!” he exclaimed.

He took the time to thank his parents, wife Nicole Kidman — who was in attendance — and his daughters, who were “hopefully” asleep, and many more, before reflecting on where this journey has taken him.

“It’s a long way from Caboolture [Queensland, Australia] to the stage here at the Grand Ole Opry … and to stand in this circle is the most phenomenal thing,” he said. “This is a responsibility that I take deep to the heart of me.”

The iconic radio show has a very special place in the 44-year-old’s heart, having inspired him to step up his career.

“The first time I played the Opry was actually backing another guy, called Slim Dusty, who’s no longer with us and was a legendary Australian country artist,” Keith said during the pre-induction press conference. “He used the little band I had called the Ranch as his backing band. I remember standing back there … and thinking it’d be great if I could get up there sometime and sing on that microphone.”

The whole area surrounding the Grand Ole Opry House has special meaning to Keith, especially a nearby gas station.

“It was the first time I heard one of my solo songs on American radio,” he recalled. “I pulled in there early in the morning to put gas in my car, and I heard ‘It’s a Love Thing’ playing over the speakers while I was gasing up my car. It’s a particularly sweet spot for me over there.”

Not to be forgotten, the consummate entertainer had his fans in mind as he hit the stage.

“I share this award with them tonight,” he professed. “I was driving here thinking how important the fans are. Like a lot of artists, I get cards and notes and letters and stories in the meet-and-greets about how the music affects them, how the songs touch them in their lives, and they often say, ‘You don’t know how much that means to me.’ This opportunity, for me, is a way to say they don’t know how much they mean to me. For all of those things that connect with them, they’re why I do what I do.”

Also on his mind were the people who believed in him early in his career. One person in particular was a label exec, Mary Martin, who took a meeting with him in 1989 and listened to what he calls a “terrible demo.”

“Of all the people I met, she’s the only one who sent me a letter,” he said. “It might’ve been a stock industry letter, I don’t know, but I love the fact that she sent me one, in Australia. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but she said, ‘I listened to your demo. I really appreciated your music. Country music is in a particularly traditional swing right now. So your music is a little out of step, but I hope you find a home here.’ That was all I needed to hear. It was totally inspirational for me.”

Another source of inspiration comes in the Grand Ole Opry itself, and the history it contains from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash.

“There really is something particular that is in, of all things, a Waylon Jennings song that he wrote called, ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?’” he admitted. “That song has always been the perfect summation of what I love about playing country music. It’s about the diversity. It’s about the evolution. Getting this tonight is my way of dedicating myself not only to the history, but to the future of country music. The line of the song that says, ‘Where do we take it from here?’ That is the defining thing that makes me keep trying to do new things and bringing new things in. Expanding it and growing it, because I’m passionately interested in where we go from here.”


Watch Keith Urban’s Induction Into the Grand Ole Opry

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