Why the Dallas Observer Music Awards Won't Be Starting a Hall of Fame

From rock 'n' roll music to country music to virtually every major professional sport, the United States houses a hall of fame for just about everything — even though, for most of the rest of the world, it's literally a foreign concept. Americans just love picking favorites.

Earlier this week, the Dallas Observer revealed this year's nominees for its annual music poll, the Dallas Observer Music Awards. In the course of assembling the ballot, we asked local experts for their suggestions on categories that deserve to be added (more on those responses in the future), and one idea that came up was the creation of a hall of fame.

But that's not going to happen. It's not the Observer's place to create a hall of fame.

Founded this week in 1980 (Oct. 2, to be precise), the paper's been covering the local music scene for over 35 years — but that doesn't mean it should be the decision maker for something this overarching. Individual publications aren't usually responsible for hall of fames; they're formed by independent organizations or committees, of which journalists are often only one part.

A proper Dallas hall of fame would also need to extend well beyond the history of the Observer. A Dallas hall of fame would have to start with one person: country music legend Bob Wills. No one to come from Dallas has ever had such a huge influence on music as the King of Western Swing. Even Waylon Jennings would tell you that. 

But anyone suggesting the DOMAs should have a hall of fame probably isn't thinking of Wills, who died five and a half years before this paper was founded.
More than likely, they're thinking of modern-day musicians. In fact, one musician in particular has been mentioned more than once this year as a potential hall of fame recipient: Nevada Hill. Hill, a prolific experimental and noise musician as well as visual artist who passed away last February, was a beloved member of the scene and a regular nominee for the DOMAs. But, while the sentiment is a good one, giving him such an honor simply because he died would also be in poor taste.

Paying a proper tribute to Hill is a wonderful idea, but considering him specifically as a hall of famer reveals other issues with the concept. Let's say that, in order to recognize more current musicians, this hall of fame were limited strictly to the DOMAs and not all of Dallas music history. The simplest and fairest way to make that happen would be to take all DOMA winners from its 28-year history and, each year, induct one or more artists based on their total number of awards won.

Fair enough, except that someone like Hill didn't win anywhere near the number of awards that, say, Sarah Jaffe has won — not to mention the many Dallas bands that were big winners in past decades but have broken up over the years. More importantly, it would take the decision making out of the hands of the voters, which is a core part of how the DOMAs are operated. These awards are decided on by a jury of the musicians' peers.
Other, similar ideas to a hall of fame have been suggested in past years, too. A "lifetime achievement" award, for instance, to be given to a prominent Dallas musician. Erykah Badu would be a prime candidate (and was, in fact, mentioned last year), with the idea presumably being to attract a big-name musician to attend the awards ceremony and therefore boost its profile. How a recipient would be chosen would be an even trickier situation than determining hall of famers.

But this, too, goes against the ethos of the DOMAs. Until recently, the ceremony often booked a headliner who wasn't a part of the ballot, or even from Dallas. Since 2014, however, the Observer has moved away from that format in order to focus the awards exclusively on the artists who have been nominated — to the betterment, most would hopefully agree, of the awards. And that's the point of the DOMAs: to celebrate the musicians who are a part of the Dallas music scene that year.

Should there be a Dallas music hall of fame? Of course there should. And if someone figures out a way to make one happen and to do it justice, the Observer will be one of the first in line to support it and give it the coverage it deserves. We just won't be the ones who create it.

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Jeff Gage
Contact: Jeff Gage