Legend has it that the first Hall of Fame in the Wabash Valley was instituted in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the 1970’s by the late Harry Weger, a local musician, radio host and music shop proprietor. People who remember Harry’s radio show reported that he focused on country music. However, this Hall of Fame appears to have existed for just a short time, and very little information about it exists. It is possible that it could have had some influence on the formation of the current Hall of Fame, but no one knows for sure.
It is widely accepted that at least four people were involved
with starting the Hall – Bill Akers, Alva Grindle, Arley Price and
Terry Haughee – but all have passed away, and their families disagree
about what role each person played. However, interviews with
Terry Haughee shortly before he passed away, and with many area
musicians who knew Bill, Alva or Arley, strongly suggest that the
Hall of Fame came about in the following way:
Bill Akers had an idea of forming a Musician’s Hall of Fame. He developed the following requirements for inductees: They must be at least 50 years old, have performed for at least 25 years, and must be a country musician. Some local musicians have reported that Bill had meetings with them to discuss his ideas.
Alva Grindle also had an idea of forming a Musician’s Hall of Fame. Musicians who played in his club reported that he talked with them about wanting to create a Hall of Fame. While he didn’t come up with any specific ideas, he did dedicate a wall in BJ’s Lounge, which he owned and operated, to local bands.
Sometime in late 1993 or early 1994, Bill and Alva began talking to each other about their ideas for a Hall of Fame and decided to work together. In a February 2009 interview, Terry Haughee reported that he was living upstairs at BJ’s Lounge when these talks began and was present during many of the early discussions between Bill and Alva. He contributed some of his own ideas, but his memory of who contributed what was somewhat fuzzy. Arley also pareticipated in some of the early meetings.
Bill’s guidelines on age and years performed were adopted (and are still in use today), but Alva favored having a Hall of Fame for all musicians, not just country musicians. The bands Alva hired for his establishment played many genres of music, and he didn’t want to favor any particular one. They managed to reach a compromise on this issue, but in what was likely a concession to Bill, the majority of inductees were country musicians. This was undoubtedly a major reason why most musicians called it the "Country Music Hall of Fame" for many years. However, this was not accurate for the following reasons:
(1) Bill and Alva officially named the organization The Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame. Neither the name nor any of the induction plaques, certificates or other official documents include the words “Country” or “Country Music”.
(2) There are inductees from other genres in every induction class, including the very first Class of 1994.
The Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony in 1994 at
BJ’s Lounge in Terre Haute, IN, hosted by Bill Akers and Alva
Grindle. Alva donated the use of his establishment, donated
money for the food, plaques and certificates, and he and his family
put on the banquet at the ceremonies. Bill was heavily
involved with selecting musicians for induction. The two men
were the driving force behind the Hall of Fame during this time
period, with each contributing his own unique skills and knowledge
to the organization.
Alva soon converted his picture room into an area for displaying the Hall’s plaques, pictures and memorabilia.
During this time period, the Hall of Fame’s area of coverage was fairly small, with the majority of inductees coming from Vigo County, but occasionally including musicians from nearby areas.
Induction ceremonies were held annually until 2002, with the exception of 2001, when there was no ceremony. Hall of Fame activities ceased when BJ’s Lounge was razed in late 2002 as part of the Hulman Street renovation project, but Alva kept the plaques, pictures and memorabilia.
Bill Akers passed away in 2005. Alva Grindle wanted to revive the
Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, but he knew that he couldn’t do
it alone, so he formed a committee consisting of Arley Price, Stacey
Wagle, Tom Smith, Terry Haughee, Rick Waggoner and Gayle Pruitt.
Terre Haute American Legion Post 346 agreed to donate their
facilities to hold the event, and the induction ceremonies were
restarted in January 2006. Again, Alva and his family worked hard
to put on the event.
Also in 2006, the Hall became a non-profit corporation named the Wabash Valley Musician’s Hall of Fame, Inc. The committee that Alva had formed, which had expanded to include more local musicians, became the Board of Directors, and Alva served as the first Board Chair or President.
Alva became ill later in 2006, and was unable to attend the induction ceremony in January 2007. He passed away in July 2007. Members of the Board of Directors that Alva had recruited assumed leadership roles, with Rick Waggoner as Chair and Treasurer, John Beeson and Tom Stiffey as Vice-Chairs and Terry Wenzel as Secretary.
It was clear after the 2007 induction ceremony that the crowds
had grown too large for Post 346. Terre Haute V.F.W. Post 972
agreed to host the induction ceremonies starting in 2008.
This was a period of great changes and growth for the Hall:
In 2008, we instituted the annual Picnic and Jam, with a car show, great food, and lots of live music.
In 2009, the Hall expanded its area of coverage to include 11 counties – Vigo, Clay, Sullivan, Vermillion, Parke, Greene, Putnam and Owen in Indiana, and Clark, Edgar and Crawford in Illinois.
In 2010, the Board of Directors instituted bi-annual elections of officers.
In 2010, we started requiring questionnaires from candidates. Questionnaires had been in use since 2006, but were not required for induction. However, the number of applicants was growng so rapidly that it became difficult to manage the induction process without the questionnaires.
The Board of Directors recognized the need for the Hall to become more involved in the community. They began the process in 2008, and are continually looking for new ways to make an impact. Here is a sample of what the Hall has accomplished:
Provided judges for the annual Colgate/Texaco Challenge singing contest.
Donated musical equipment to the youth center in Sullivan, IN.
Worked with the Terre Haute Children's Museum, including holding a Musical Petting Zoo for the children and providing funds to help them purchase a giant floor piano.
Made annual contributions to local symphonies, orchestras, and community bands.
Sponsored children for the Terre Haute Childrens Choir.
Collected canned goods at our events for local charities and soup kitchens, such as the Bethany House, Light House Mission, 14th & Chestnut Community Center and Providence Food Pantry. Also donated unused food from our induction ceremonies.
Made annual donations to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, also to the Transportation group at the Zorah Shrine so that they can take local families to and from the Shriners Hospitals.
Assisted area schools, donating music stands to the Shakamak Junior-Senior High School in Jasonville, IN, cash donations to the Terre Haute North High School Music Program for a sound system and to the Terre Haute Sough High School Band Boosters.
Donated our time to play for special events held by local non-profit organizations.
Visit our Community Involvement page for more information on the Hall's community activities.
The decision was made to move our induction ceremonies to the Terre Haute Zorah Shrine starting in 2016. There were many advantages to making the move, including a better layout, a dance floor and excellent kitchen facilities. Also, we were allowed to use the stage, something that the V.F.W. reserved for their bingo equipment.
With the passing of Alva Grindle, the Hall was given possession
of the plaques, but has not had a place to display them. However,
special posters have been created and are on display at Rick’s
Smokehouse, Texas Roadhouse and other locations. The Hall is hopeful
to have some of the memorabilia on display soon.
Following in the footsteps of our founders, The Wabash Valley Musician’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing local musicians, promoting live music in the community and giving back to the community. We are grateful to Bill Akers, Alva Grindle, and all who assisted them in creating and sustaining the Hall.