Louis Nunley, the baritone voice of both The Anita Kerr Singers and The Jordanaires, has died at age 81.
He was a veteran of the Music Row recording scene and a major contributor to the development of the classic Nashville Sound. That style softened the sound of Country recordings to make them accessible to pop-music fans. The Anita Kerr Singers earned two Grammy Awards during Nunley’s tenure with the group. After he joined The Jordanaires, that group also earned a Grammy.
Nunley sang on Nashville hits from the early 1950s until his retirement in 2010. Among the hundreds of stars he backed are Jim Reeves, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Eddy Arnold, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow and Red Foley. Nunley was the “whispering” voice in Brenda Lee’s landmark 1959 hit “Sweet Nothin’s,” and he has also backed such contemporary vocalists as Kristin Chenoweth and Mandy Barnett.
He was a native of Sikeston, MO who was raised in Anderson, IN. He moved to Nashville in 1948 to attend David Lipscomb University. His first recording session was in 1949.
The Anita Kerr Singers initially performed as regulars on WSM’s radio show “Sunday Down South.” Producer Owen Bradley and singer Red Foley began using the group on recording sessions around 1950.
In 1956, Kerr’s group became a quartet to compete on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on television. After winning, they became regulars on Godfrey’s CBS-TV series. In addition to Kerr and Nunley, the quartet included Dottie Dillard and Gil Wright.
The singers earned Grammy Awards in 1965 for the albums We Dig Mancini and Southland Favorites (with George Beverly Shea). They also continued to provide background vocals on hundreds of records.
Nunley was active as a session vocalist outside the group, recording as an independent contractor for decades. He sang on ad jingles, movie soundtracks and television specials such as the CMA Awards Show and the Music City News Awards. He was also a regular on the TNN series by The Statler Brothers. He served in leadership roles in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) at both the local and national levels.
He joined The Jordanaires in 1999 and became the group’s musical director in 2000. The group arned a Grammy in 2002 for the CD We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album.
Louis Nunley died on Friday, October 26. He is survived by his wife Mary Ann Fluty Nunley, sons Louis Jr. and Lee, sister Jean Nunley Dennison and numerous nieces and nephews. Visitation with the family will be Wednesday (10/31) at Woodlawn Roesch-Patton Funeral Home from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the following day. The funeral service will then be held with burial to follow at Woodlawn Memorial Park.
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