Country Music Assn. honors its best tonight

One afternoon in 1957, Don Gibson crafted two country music classics � "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Oh, Lonesome Me."

Gibson's hits kept coming for years, including the haunting "Sweet Dreams," a best-seller for his close friend Patsy Cline.

But for decades, Gibson has been a mystery � a once-prolific songwriter and soulful singer who stopped writing and recording and withdrew from the music world.

Depressed and often in ill health, he dreamed of better times while the Country Music Hall of Fame passed him by every year.

At 69, Gibson is feeling a creative rebirth. He's writing songs again � this time for Mandy Barnett, a 26-year-old country singer and longtime fan.

He's also finally been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The inductees were announced in the summer, but they're being formally recognized tonight during the Country Music Assn. Awards.

CMA spokeswoman Wendy Pearl said an unprecedented 12 people were inducted this year in the new $37 million Hall of Fame, which opened May 17 in downtown Nashville, Tenn. CMA members with at least 10 years of experience in the industry make the selections.

Gibson joins such performers as Bill Anderson, Waylon Jennings, the Everly Brothers and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who produced Elvis' first records.

Gibson and his wife of 34 years, Bobbi, plan to attend the awards show. The appearance will be one of the few times he's connected with the country music community in recent years.

"Don likes people, but he's not outgoing," Bobbi Gibson said. "He's self-conscious. As a kid, he was very bashful, and people now take that as arrogance."

Between 1958 and the mid-'60s, Gibson's records and his compositions were hits for himself and many other performers.

Gibson and the late Chet Atkins, who produced Gibson's greatest hits, made history with the clean "Nashville Sound" that broadened country music's appeal.

A second-grade dropout from Shelby, N.C., Gibson created one of America's richest country music catalogues. His simple, emotion-charged songs were adapted by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Quincy Jones and Bob Dylan.

The 35th annual CMA awards will be broadcast live from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn. Reba McEntire has been added to the list of those performing. She's expected perform her latest single, "I'm a Survivor," which has taken on an added message since Sept. 11.

Nominees are:

Entertainer Of The Year:Brooks & DunnDixie ChicksAlan JacksonTim McGrawGeorge Strait

Male Vocalist Of The Year:Alan JacksonToby KeithTim McGrawBrad PaisleyGeorge Strait

Female Vocalist Of The Year:Sara EvansFaith HillMartina McBrideLee Ann WomackTrish Yearwood

Hall Of Fame Inductees are:Don GibsonBill AndersonThe Delmore BrothersThe Everly BrothersHomer & JethroWaylon JenningsThe JordanairesDon LawThe Louvin BrothersKen NelsonSam PhillipsWebb Pierce

Gibson beat pill and alcohol addictions only to battle everything from hip-replacement and bypass surgery to heart problems.

He stopped recording, writing and performing.

In April, Gibson accepted an invitation from Barnett to hear her sing at a small Nashville club.

They kicked around song ideas, and he started writing again � for her.

"I wanted to help her out," Gibson said. "She's a great singer. You've either got the feeling or you don't � and she's got it.

"She just needs the right record. I'd like to come up with another 'I Can't Stop Loving You,' but that would be hard."

Barnett feels sure Gibson can deliver.

"He's got the magic," she said.


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