Mark Wills’ musical dream came true on Jan. 11 when he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. The singer was asked to join the esteemed organization by Vince Gill on Dec. 21.
“I think that the induction was a complete, 100 percent shock, so I was actually kind of proud of myself that I held it together as well as I did,” Mark tells Nash Country Daily. “I’ve thought about what I was going to say in my Opry induction speech for years, and all of that went out the window the moment that I walked on stage.”
Opry legend and longtime member Jeannie Seely welcomed Mark to the stage on Friday night, as she did back in the mid-90s when he stepped into the circle for his very first performance. Mark started his three-song set with his Top 10 debut single, “Jacob’s Ladder,” followed by “Phantom of the Opry,” which pays tribute to Opry members who are no longer with us, including the late George Jones, whose jacket Mark wore for the special occasion.
After Mark’s set, Craig Morgan presented him with his Grand Ole Opry trophy.
“I slept with my ACM Award the night I won it, I’m sleeping with this tonight,” Mark beamed. “I’m honored to stand on this stage as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Mark went on to recognized his mom and dad in the crowd, along with wife Kelly and daughters Macey and Mally, who proudly watched from the backstage wings. But there was one other person in the crowd Mark praised for getting him where he is today—his junior high choir teacher, who encouraged the young boy to join her class after hearing him sing.
“Junior high is a very formable time in someone’s life. She was one of those people who invested into me and into my confidence of my music ability, and that means a lot,” Mark said. “She is truly one of those very special people in my life where no matter where I went, no matter what I’ve been able to accomplish, that I have always held her in very high regard, very fondly. She was a very young teacher when I was in junior high, probably about 24, but even at her young age, she knew how important it was to invest in the youth. I think that’s the thing about the Grand Ole Opry where I feel like over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years, I’ll be able to invest in our youth. I will be able to invest in the newer generation of people that will be the flag bearers of country music. I felt that it was very important to thank her publicly and to sort of grab ahold of that banner and begin to wave it almost immediately.”
Mark also asked those in attendance who personally knew him to stand so he could see each of their faces and singled out several, sincerely thanking them.
“I mean, looking out into the crowd and seeing all of the familiar faces that were my friends was the most beautiful thing about that night,” he said. “We had people from all over the country that took time out of their schedules to fly to Nashville, to drive to Nashville to be a part of that. That means a lot. That’s an amazing feeling when that many people will spend money out of their wallets and spend time out of their lives to come support you in something they know is so important to you.”
Mark closed out the night with his seven-week No. 1 hit, “19 Somethin’,” marking his first performance as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Mark has been no stranger to the Opry stage over the past 19 years of his career. If he wasn’t stepping inside the circle singing his catalog of hit singles in his 256 performances on the stage, he could often be found wandering backstage on Friday and Saturday nights with his daughter, Macey, soaking up the environment and paying his respect to the stars who came before him.
“I think that it’s very important for people to know that the Opry is a tradition,” Mark said. “It is something that is much greater than Roy Acuff, Porter Wagoner, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim Ed Brown, Vince Gill, John Conlee, Jeannie Seely, Mark Wills . . . It’s a tradition that I greatly look forward to until the end of my life being able to honor and promote and to do my very best to live up to the high standards that those entertainers who have come before us have established.”
Some of Mark’s hits throughout the years include “Don’t Laugh At Me,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Places I’ve Never Been,” “I Do (Cherish You),” “Back at One” and “She’s in Love.”
photo by Chris Hollo, Grand Ole Opry