Garth Brooks Is Among 9 Country Stars to Receive Kennedy Center Honors — So Who’s Still Waiting?

Garth Brooks has received enough awards to fill a museum. Even so, the prize that was announced on Wednesday is special. Brooks is just the ninth country artist to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. And, at 58, he’s the youngest country artist ever to receive the honor. (He swipes that distinction from Dolly Parton, who was 60 when she received the honor in 2006.)

The Kennedy Center Honors were introduced in 1978, but it wasn’t until the 14th class of honorees, in 1991, that a country artist, Roy Acuff, was included. In its early years, the honors program focused on classical, traditional pop and jazz artists.

Here’s a complete list of the nine country artists who have been saluted by the Kennedy Center Honors. (They are listed in chronological order.) As stands to reason, all nine have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame too. Seven have received lifetime achievement awards from the Recording Academy. Five have been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Two (Willie Nelson and Brooks) have received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. But just one (Johnny Cash) has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The list is followed by a quick reminder of 16 country artists who are still waiting for this recognition.

Country artists who have received Kennedy Center Honors:

Roy Acuff: The singer, fiddler and promoter was 88 when he received the honor in 1991. In 1962, Acuff became the first living person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1987. Acuff died in 1992.

Johnny Cash: The singer, songwriter, musician and actor was 64 when he was honored in 1996. He was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1999. Cash died in 2003.

Willie Nelson: The musician, actor and activist was 65 when he was honored in 1998. He was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2000 and the Gershwin Prize in 2015. Nelson is 87.

Loretta Lynn: The first female country artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, Lynn was 71 when she was honored in 2003. The singer-songwriter was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2010. Lynn is 88.

Dolly Parton: The champion multi-tasker — a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman and humanitarian — was 60 when she was honored in 2006. That still makes her the youngest female country artist ever to get the call. She was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2011. Parton is 74; she turns 75 on Jan. 19.

George Jones: The musician, singer and songwriter was 77 when he was honored in 2008. He was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2012. Jones died in 2013.

Merle Haggard: The singer, songwriter, guitarist and fiddler was 73 when he was honored in 2010. He was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2006. Hag died in 2016.

Reba McEntire: The singer, songwriter and actress was 63 when she was honored in 2018. She was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. She has yet to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. McEntire is 65.

Garth Brooks: The singer, songwriter and renowned live performer, 58, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. He received the Gershwin Prize in 2020. He has yet to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy.

Top country artists who have not yet been honored by the Kennedy Center:

These 16 artists are among dozens of acts who have been voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame but have yet to receive Kennedy Center Honors. They are listed in alphabetical order: Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, The Everly Brothers, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Alan Jackson, Kris Kristofferson, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, The Statler Brothers, George Strait, Randy Travis and Hank Williams Jr.

No country groups or duos have yet been honored by the Kennedy Center. Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys are likely vying to become the first. By contrast, three rock groups — The Who, Led Zeppelin and Eagles — have been honored, as has one R&B group (Earth, Wind & Fire). (Technically, members of those groups were honored: the then-living members of The Who and Led Zeppelin and the key members, living or dead, of Eagles and EWF.)

The Kennedy Center rarely honors artists posthumously, so the clock has presumably run out for such artists as Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers and Charlie Daniels, all of whom died last year. Even Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, a year before the Honors began, was never honored.

Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers and Lew DeWitt and Harold Reid of The Statler Brothers have died, but other members of both acts are still living.