By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE (Reuters) - The Country Music Association on Tuesday named three stars for induction into its Hall of Fame including superstar Garth Brooks and veterans Connie Smith and Hargus "Pig" Robbins.
Brooks, who has sold more than 128 million albums worldwide in his career, became a superstar of the 1990s with albums such as "Ropin' the Wind" and "No Fences" and was heralded for his live stage acts. He took a break from heavy touring in the early 2000s, but in recent years has been performing more often.
The 50-year-old Brooks was picked for the Country Music Hall of Fame in its "Modern Era Artist" category.
At Tuesday's announcement in the Nashville-based Hall of Fame, Brooks said it was an honor to be named but added it seemed premature with others such as Randy Travis, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs still not inducted.
"It's kind of odd to be in this room," he said. "You want to be mentioned in the same breath with George Strait and Reba McEntire -- those are the two heroes I grew up with," he said, adding others like Merle Haggard and George Jones.
"Now you're gonna get to be in the same hall with them? Make no mistake, I don't think I'm on that level. But it's pretty cool to have your name listed with them," he said.
Piano player Hargus "Pig" Robbins was announced in a category for recording and touring musicians. He was among the most sought-after music artists in Nashville for what became known as the "Nashville sound" of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Robbins, 74, also was part of an elite group of studio session musicians known as the Superpickers. He played with hundreds of artists including Haggard, Jones and Reba McEntire.
He lost one eye at age two and became completely blind at age four. He earned his nickname as a young student after sneaking out of class and returning "dirty as a pig," a teacher said. The nickname stuck. Like Brooks, Robbins said he was "honored" to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Connie Smith, 70, was selected in the Veterans Era artist category. She rose to fame in the 1960s and saw her debut single, 1964's "Once a Day," claim the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine's record chart. It was the first time a female country singer reached No. 1 -- a feat that went unmatched for 20 years.
She stepped out of the limelight during her career to focus on family. In the late 1990s, she married singer Marty Stuart and by the 2000s had returned to singing and recording again.
"I'm still enjoying music," she said at Tuesday's announcement.
In fact, Smith said she was riding high this week because in addition to the announcement this morning she became a grandmother for the eighth time.
The induction of Brooks, Robbins and Smith will take place later this year at the Hall of Fame's Ford Theater in Nashville. The Country Music Association created the Hall of Fame in 1961 and induction is considered the industry's top honor.
(Reporting by Vernell Hackett; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Christine Kearney)
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