NASHVILLE -- Garth Brooks' eyes filled with tears on Sunday night before the Medallion Ceremony to induct him into theCountry Music Hall of Fame even started.
"I came to this town for one reason," Brooks said on the red carpet just inside the hall's doors. "That was to get George Strait to record 'Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).' Tonight, he's singing it."
Brooks, Connie Smith and Hargus "Pig" Robbins were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, each with performances from some all-star friends.
Bob Seger, James Taylor and Strait were on hand to pay tribute to Brooks. Robbins was honored by Ronnie Dunn, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, and Gene Watson; and Smith was feted by the Quebe Sisters Band, The Whites and Lee Ann Womack.
"I'm going to try to set a record drinking this much moonshine in a three-minute song," Dunn joked, holding a mason jar of clear liquid, before he launched into a version of George Jones' "White Lightning," the first song on which Robbins professionally played.
Since 1959, Robbins has been a constant in Nashville studios, playing on smashes by Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, The Statler Brothers, Charlie Rich, Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and hundreds of other notables, including fellow inductee Smith.
"There's hundreds of artists who had a better career because Pig played on their records and there's millions of fans who had their hearts touched because he played on them," said McCoy before officially inducting Robbins into the Hall of Fame.
"I'm very honored to go in with Connie since I played on her first records, and with the mighty Garth, of course," Robbins said.
After a rousing duet from Robbins and Milsap on "Behind Closed Doors," Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, took a few minutes to tell the audience about Smith.
"You only need to hear Connie Smith once to realize why she is considered one of the great vocalists of her generation," Young said.
Smith, born Constance June Meador in 1941, began her recording career with RCA in the summer of 1964. She leaned heavily on songs from Bill Anderson's pen, including "Once a Day," which would become her first No. 1 country hit.
"Once a Day" was the first debut single by a female country artist to top the charts, and it wasn't until Trisha Yearwood's "She's in Love With the Boy" in 1991 that a female country singer equaled that feat. Smith's quick ascent earned her three Grammy nominations in 1965, and "Once a Day" was the first in a run of 12 consecutive Top 10 hits.
"All the girl singers want to sing like Connie," said Womack before performing Smith's "You've Got Me Right Where You Want Me." "Connie has it all. She has the great songs, the voice and the beauty."
Merle Haggard flew in from California to induct Smith into the Hall.
"There's more than one reason to love Connie, but mostly because she sang so good," Haggard said. "I can't remember anything she ever recorded that I didn't love."
Smith took the stage amid a standing ovation.
"I kind of feel like I deserve it the least because I didn't aim for it, I just wanted to sing and feed my kids," Smith said. "I feel like this was God's destiny for me, to be a girl country singer."
Garth Brooks' destiny was similar - and grandly successful.
The Recording Industry Association of America dubbed Brooks the Male Solo Artist of the 20th century. The Oklahoma native sold more than 128 million albums, collected 19 No. 1 songs and is the top-selling artist of the SoundScan era.
"Whenever the topic turns to Garth Brooks, people inevitably talk about how he changed country music," said Young. "Garth did not change country music. Like every important artist honored in the Hall of Fame, Garth Brooks is country music. But Garth Brooks did change American culture. He proved that there were no barriers to how many hearts and souls country music could touch."
That was evident Sunday when Brooks' musical tribute transcended the boundaries of the genre with performances from Strait, Seger, and Taylor.
"What I love about Garth is his passion," said Seger. "Even with his enormous success, he's still a really good guy."
Brooks, 50, broke onto the country music scene in 1989 with his self-titled first album, which was released on Capitol Records.
"If Tomorrow Never Comes" became Brooks' first No. 1 song, and soon after, "The Dance" became a career-defining ballad. When Brooks' third album, "Ropin' the Wind," was released in 1991, it made history as the first country album to ever debut at No. 1 on both the Billboard Top 200 albums chart and the Billboard Top Country albums chart.
Brooks, named CMA Entertainer of the Year four times in the '90s, released 10 albums of new material and four greatest hits packages between 1989 and 2007, including his "Double Live" set, which is certified 20 times platinum.
"I remember hearing about Garth swinging around on ropes and blowing things up on stage and thinking, 'This is country music, can he do that?' " recalled Strait as he was inducting Brooks. "Yes, he can."
Brooks took the stage to make his acceptance speech and recalled how Taylor, Seger, and Strait had impacted his life and career. He said that Taylor's music brought peace to his house as a child and credited Strait's music for helping him find his career path.
"I wanted to be George Strait so damn bad," he said. "And tonight caps it off, I still want to be George Strait so damn bad. When I came out here, Vince Gill looked at me and said, 'This will be the greatest day of my life.' And he was right. It was the best day of my professional life."