Ferlin Husky usually gets a lot calls in the spring from friends telling him this has to be the year he'll be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"Every year I've heard that — for the last 15 or 20 years," Husky said with a laugh.
This time it's true.
The Country Music Association on Tuesday announced that Husky and three other genre-expanding country music stars will be new inductees to the Hall of Fame.
Husky joins fellow crossover pioneer Jimmy Dean, producer Billy Sherrill and top-selling singer Don Williams. The men will be inducted into the Hall in Nashville, Tenn., later this year.
It's been a long wait for Husky, who is 84. One of the best-selling popular artists regardless of genre in the 1950s and '60s, Husky figured he just wasn't country enough for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"The main thing I'm proud of this is for my family and for the many people who want to see me go in there before I die," Husky said. "It's a great honor."
Husky and Dean — both selected as Veterans Era Artists in a tie under a new selection process this year — took country music to wider audiences by using the relatively new medium of television to earn new fans.
Dean, best known for the spoken narrative hit "Big Bad John," hosted "The Morning Show, an early morning variety show on CBS, was the first guest host for "The Tonight Show" and had his own variety show on CBS that featured country artists as guests.
He became a headliner at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and became the first country star to play on the Las Vegas strip.
He also was an actor with parts in television and the movies, including the role of James Bond's ally Willard Whyte in the 1971 film "Diamonds Are Forever."
Husky also achieved pop success before turning to TV and film. He was a variety show regular and among the first country artists to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He had several hits, including "Wings of a Dove" and "Gone," and sold millions of records.
"I didn't say it was country, but it was a country boy doing it," Husky said.
Williams started his recording career with a folk-pop outfit and moved to Nashville in the early 1970s. He went on to record 17 No. 1 hits in the U.S. and earned a large following in Europe.
He also appeared in movies, including "Smokey and the Bandit II."
Sherrill, 73, ranks among Nashville's greatest producers and was named songwriter of the century by BMI in 1999. He shaped the careers of Tammy Wynette, George Jones and dozens of other country stars.
Influenced heavily by producers as diverse as Owen Bradley and Phil Spector, Sherrill brought a more sophisticated sound to Nashville that helped push country music to a more mainstream audience.
The Grammy winner used strings and backing vocals to great effect and wasn't afraid to try new things — even if no one seemed to like it at first.
"They called it countrypolitan or something like that," Sherrill said. "I always took a lot of heat for using violins and things like that."
He remembers adding a saxophone on Jones' cover of the Ray Charles song, "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."
"We didn't do it while George was there," Sherrill said. "He left town and I overdubbed the sax. I thought he was going to kill me. He said, 'What have you done! My people, they'll hate me.'"
The record sold just fine, validating yet another unconventional decision. Over time, though, Sherrill got tired of hearing the complaints from publishers and critics.
So he booked a flight to New York to visit with his boss at Epic, Clive Davis. The legendary record executive couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"He said, 'Do you want to get in trouble with me?'" Sherrill remembered. "I said, 'No, Clive.' He said, 'Get on a plane, go back to Nashville and do your own songs — or you'll get in trouble and I may have to fire you.' So I thought that was pretty great."