Opry Member Billy Grammer Passes

Billy Grammer

Grand Ole Opry member Billy Grammer passed away early this morning in his home state of Illinois from natural causes. Grammer, 85, was a revered guitarist and had been a member of the Opry since 1959.

Grammer was born one of 13 children in an Illinois coal mining family. After high school and service in the Army, Grammer heard of a possible opening with Connie B. Gay, a disc jockey and promoter in the Washington, D.C., area. He hitchhiked to Arlington, Virginia, auditioned, and got the job.

His skills as a musician won him stints in the bands of artists such as Hawkshaw Hawkins and Grandpa Jones and a sideman role on Jimmy Dean’s television show. He then formed his own band and began performing as a solo artist. In early 1959, he recorded his memorable hit “Gotta Travel On.” Its million-selling success led to Opry membership that same year. It was a crossover pop hit adapted from a then 150-year-old British folk tune which was the first hit for Monument Records and its founder Fred Foster.

Grammer was an in-demand session picker for Eddy Arnold, Louis Armstrong and Patti Page. “Musicians I have talked to through the years have told me that I have a little extra punch, a little extra push,” he once said. During the 1960s, Grammer developed the flat-top Grammer Guitar, and donated the original model to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Grammer was devoutly religious and delivered the invocation for the Grand Ole Opry House opening in 1974. He and wife Ruth celebrated his 50th Opry anniversary at the show in February 2009.

Funeral Arrangements:
Morton & Johnston Funeral Home
410 S. Main Street
Benton, IL 62812
Phone Number: (618) 438-0311

Friday, Aug. 12: Visitation 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 13: Funeral Service @ 11:00 a.m. at the Morton & Johnson Funeral Home


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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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