10/27/2014 AT 01:00 PM EDT
is known for her vocal dexterity, but when she went to select a Ronnie Milsap song that she could sing to honor the newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame
, she was momentarily stumped.
Milsap’s singing always “sounded so effortless,” she told the 800 guests invited to his induction ceremony Sunday in Nashville. “I never really realized [his range] until I sat down at the piano.”
She wanted to pick “What a Difference You Made in My Life,” she said, but “couldn’t get the key low enough to sing … the high notes.”
Fortunately, McBride still had a slew of Milsap hits to pick from – he’s notched a staggering 35 No. 1 songs – before she finally settled on “(I’d Be) A Legend in My Time.”
It was a fitting tribute to a legend whose own time in country music has spanned more than 40 years. Milsap, 71, joined bluegrass icon Mac Wiseman and the late songwriter Hank Cochran (“Make the World Go Away,” “I Fall to Pieces”) in the Hall of Fame’s 2014 class. The three were inducted in the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
‘That Day Is Here’
Before the ceremony, Milsap wistfully recalled a prediction his RCA producer, Jerry Bradley, made after Milsap won CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1977: “He said, ‘The next stop is the Country Music Hall of Fame.’ I said, ‘Do you think I’ll really get that?’ And he said, ‘Someday.’ And now the day is here.”
Bradley was among those to receive thanks from Milsap on stage, though he reserved most of his gratitude for his family, “for being by me all the time and making all of this so much fun.” He gave a special shout-out to Charley Pride – the fellow Hall of Famer, who was in the audience, is credited with pushing Milsap out of R&B and into country.
Others who performed Milsap hits included Hunter Hayes, who chose “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” a song he’s featured in his own set lists, and Sam Moore, one-half of the ’60s R&B duo Sam & Dave, who corralled Vince Gill into an impromptu duet of “Lost in the Fifties Tonight.”
Reba McEntire was the Hall of Fame member selected to induct Milsap, but she bowed out after her father died in Oklahoma on Thursday. “Little Miss Dynamite” Brenda Lee, 69, stepped in and recounted Milsap’s journey to stardom, which began with the discovery of his musical ability in childhood at a North Carolina school for the blind.
“Thank you, Ronnie,” Lee said, “for sharing your remarkable talent and vision, and for helping the world to see a little more clearly what greatness can be achieved when no obstacles given us in life are too big to overcome.”
The honors for Milsap won’t stop at the Hall of Fame: On Nov. 4, RCA is set to release a 21-disc box set of all his albums on that label.