The Country Music Hall of Fame recognized pioneers who are responsible for the genre's growing diversity by selecting its new class of Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare and Jack Clement.
The trio of trailblazing inductees attended a news conference Wednesday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to announce the class of 2013.
Each has made a significant impact on country music, making bold decisions that helped spread the genre beyond its traditional borders.
With songs like "The Gambler," ''Lucille" and the Lionel Richie-produced "Lady," Rogers was both a pop music crossover and a pop culture sensation in the 1970s and '80s. He starred in TV movies in the role of The Gambler, and with his trademark white hair and beard remains one of music's most recognizable figures. He was inducted in the modern era category.
"I tell you I came here one day with some friends of mine and walked around looking at these plaques," Rogers, 74, said during his speech, "and this is truly rarified air in here."
Rogers started in a jazz band, moved on to folk and a had a hit with "Just Checked In (to See What Condition My Condition Is In)" with The First Edition before he arrived at country already well past the age when today's aspirants are shown the door.
He helped push country into pop territory "for better or worse," he joked in an interview after the induction ceremony.
"It's just been a wonderful life for me," Rogers said, "and I think what I'd like to believe I did, which is what the new generation is doing, is bring a lot of people to country music who wouldn't have listened to it otherwise."
"Cowboy" Jack Clement began as an artist but made his biggest contributions as a producer with historic instincts. He played a crucial role in the history of rock 'n' roll, working as a producer and engineer at Sun Records during an era when acts like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley changed the way we listen to music.
He produced Cash's iconic "Ring of Fire," adding the mariachi horns that became the song's signature. He sent Jerry Lee Lewis away, his daughter said in an acceptance speech that she read for her father, because he was singing the songs of others. He instructed the future rock 'n' roll legend to find his own sound before he came back.
And he continued to shake things up once he moved to Nashville. Bill Anderson, a hall of famer who hosted the news conference, noted Clement had the "foresight and fortitude" to produce a young Charley Pride, a black artist who defied country stereotypes to become a platinum-selling sensation.
Clement, 82, joined Cash, Pride and Presley in the hall of fame Wednesday, entering in the non-performer category.
And Bare, inducted in the veterans era category, charted his own path after being signed by Chet Atkins. Once a roommate of Willie Nelson, he emulated the freethinking outlaw movement, though never actually joined it, by inspiring his contemporaries to move freely from country to pop and rock, and back again.
And like his good friend Waylon Jennings, he dabbled in folk, bringing that sensibility to Nashville from California where he met and was signed by Chet Atkins, whose plaque also hangs at the hall of fame.
"Did I do that?" Bare, 78, joked after hearing his biography read.
Rogers, Bare and Clement will be formally inducted in a ceremony later this year.