Nashville’s Music Community Salutes Jo Walker-Meador

Pictured: Jo Walker-Meador in the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in her Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum interview on Nov. 12, 2014. Photo: Donn Jones for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Members of the Nashville music community are paying tribute following the death of Country Music Hall of Fame member and longtime Country Music Association (CMA) Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador, who died Tuesday (Aug. 15) at age 93.

Walker-Meador, native of Orlinda, Tennessee, joined the CMA as an office manager. When the CMA’s founding Executive Director Harry Stone resigned in 1962, she was promoted to the role. Walker-Meador’s vision for country music led to the creation of the Country Music Hall of Fame (created in 1961), the CMA Awards (created in 1967 and nationally televised since 1968), the CMA Music Festival (which launched as Fan Fair in 1972), and more. For Robert K. Oermann’s full MusicRow LifeNotes obit, click here.

“Jo was a champion for country music around the world and a groundbreaker for women in the entertainment business,” says CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern. “On a personal note, I will miss her guidance, humor, and friendship. She was the first meeting I set up before I took this job. She taught me lessons in how to gracefully navigate the Board. She was always diplomatic in her storytelling and she had some great ones to share. Over the last six months she was a little more candid and I always looked forward to our time together. She will be greatly missed by all. My heart is broken.”

“She was an amazing, extremely classy, caring, giving wonderful woman,” CMA Board Director and country music artist Kix Brooks says. “All of my dealings with her were what you would consider the essence of class. Jo Walker-Meador moved the CMA, and the entire Nashville music business in a large way from what it was to what it is. She had an amazing talent for always looking forward. Of course, her being a woman during that time, you look at those old pictures of the CMA that are full of men and then there is Jo Walker, knowing what she probably had to deal with in a man’s world, especially in that era. She is to be celebrated. There is a handful of women in our town—her, Donna Hilley, Connie Bradley, Frances Preston that come to mind—that really excelled in a man’s world and did a lot for the way this town was run and for respecting women in the music business. I really applaud her legacy for that. I really do think when someone lives a good long life and accomplishes some of the things that she did, it’s really not sadness that I view the news with. I have to kind of smile and go, ‘Life well lived.’”

“Jo Walker-Meador looked at a mid-sized Southern town and envisioned something grander,” says Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young. “She listened to music that was regional and knew that it could have worldwide impact. And then she quietly and gracefully ushered these things into being. She created grand scenes, then stood behind them. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum would not exist without her, and my life is one of millions that are better because of Jo Walker-Meador.”

“The world of country music has lost an irreplaceable force. It was my great privilege to work with Jo,” says Ed Benson, former CMA Executive Director. “Over the years I had the opportunity to see how she used her warm and caring personality and her unique skills to gain friends and supporters all over the world. Jo had an incredible memory for details. She could remember not only the names of the many people with whom she came in contact, but usually the names of their spouses and children too. Jo had a big vision for the power of country music and a determination that it could grow in popularity. She was one of the early supporters of international development. I traveled around the world with her meeting with top industry leaders and government officials to promote country’s growth. She spoke only English, but she knew the international language of music had great value. And of course that personality endeared her to so many. I never met a harder worker than Jo. She was an inspiration to all who had the privilege to work with her. I have been lucky to remain close to her since she retired and I felt she loved me like the son she never had.”

“I always felt like my day was better just by being with Jo,” says Robert Deaton, executive producer for CMA Fest, CMA Awards, and CMA Country Christmas. “When working on one of our shows, she would always leave me with a piece of advice. She would take me by the hand and whisper a legend’s name in my ear as a reminder to not forget where we came from. She was all about love. The love of country music, our artists, and the love of our community. We should all honor the legacy of Jo Walker-Meador. Her mark on our music will last forever. She was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”

“Besides being a respected role model in the music industry, Jo was also a warm, caring lady,” says Bill Denny, CMA Board member and former Board president/chairman. “She always had time to listen and to offer help. The music industry and the Country Music Association in particular, greatly benefited from her unique ability to pull people together to get a project underway and to see it thru to completion. We will miss her.”

“Jo is so many things to me! She hired me in 1985 as the CMA Administrative Services Manager – she even called my high school principal to make sure I was a good person. She quickly became my mentor and the reason I committed to CMA and created my life there,” says Tammy Genovese, former CMA Executive Director. “Jo was a woman who made it to the top. If she could do it, so could I. So I buckled down, went back to school and earned my MBA, got married, had my kids, and finally did make it to the top – with her as my champion all the way. She was also such a personal inspiration to me and my family. I called her my ‘Nashville Mom’ and I think most of the time she claimed me… I will miss her forever, but know she is happy in Heaven with her precious Bob and watching all her friends and family from around the world celebrate her life. Love you Jo!”

“Jo Walker-Meador was an incredible, pioneering leader in the evolution and growth of the CMA and building the foundation for our future successes,” says Ed Hardy, former CMA Board chairman. “When I was asked by the board to step in and fill the CEO role on an interim basis in 2013, she was one of the very first people who called to offer her help and I gladly accepted it and treasured her counsel. Her legacy as one of the very first women in leadership in the country music industry will endure forever. Until recently, Jo still attended so many CMA functions. She will truly be missed by me and I’m sure by all of my colleagues on the CMA Board and Staff.”

Dolly Parton presents the CMA Irving Waugh Award of Excllence to Jo Walker-Meador during the 1991 CMA Awards. Photo: Beth Gwinn / CMA

“Her dream was to coach basketball, but she wound up coaching country music all over the world,” says Brenda Lee, Country Music Hall of Fame member and former CMA Board member. “I was always amazed at Jo’s memory. She could remember everything and anything. The last Board talk she gave was astounding. She adored the people in country music – the fans, the artists, the singers, all the innerworkings. She adored it. And that’s what we all loved about her. She loved us. It wasn’t just a job to her. She cared. She was a wonderful, kind, sweet person that absolutely gave all. The people meant more to her than the bright lights and city folks. She got the word out, not that it wasn’t before, but it went to a different level with Miss Jo. I was honored to know her personally for a long, long time. I will miss her spirit, laughing with her, having lunch with her and being around the great person that she was. It’s like a bright light went out and will be out for a bit, but Sarah will carry on that tradition and make that light shine again. We can rely on that for sure.”

“I am very saddened about the passing of Jo Walker-Meador!” says Steve Moore, former CMA CEO and Board Chairman. “Almost everyone knows of her legendary passionate leadership and inspirational gifts she dedicated to the music community, but what I remember most was her friendship, passion and love for any and all of us who had the pleasure of being in her presence! Love you Ms. Jo!!”

“Jo was the very face and epitome of grace and aplomb,” says Jim Ed Norman, CMA Board member and CEO of Curb Records. “It may have been a man’s world she accommodated but it ‘wouldn’t be nothing’ without Jo Walker-Meador. Every time we spoke, without knowing it, or forcing it, she reminded me about the importance of kindness, truth and humility. Selfish as it may be, a great regret of mine will be not having spent even more time with her.”

“I had the honor to serve as Chair & President of CMA during Jo’s tenure,” says Ralph Peer II, CMA Board member and Chairman/CEO of peermusic. “Jo was of ultimate importance to the growth in stature and size of CMA as she had an uncanny ability to keep us all going in the same direction for the benefit of everyone in country music. I miss her already!”

“Jo Walker Meador, now joins the ranks of spirited and passionate female leaders such as Frances Preston, Donna Hilley, Maggie Cavender and others who have left everlasting marks on the growth and success of country music,” says David M. Ross, CMA Board member and owner of BossRoss Media. “Her humor, grace and tireless efforts on behalf of country music will be greatly missed.”

“I cannot even describe how sad I am to learn of Jo’s passing,” says former CMA Director of Media Relations and current 888 Management’s Scott Stem. “Everyone in the country music industry owes a debt to Jo Walker-Meador, and I hope everyone will take a moment today to be thankful that she was here and for all that she accomplished. She was a trailblazer for women in this industry without a doubt, but in truth, she was a trailblazer for all of us. She was among the most gracious people I’ve ever met and always made everyone feel important. I first met her soon after getting my first job in the industry when I was green and barely knew anything and she treated me with the same respect that I saw her treat heads of companies with. Throughout the near 30 years I’ve known her, that never changed. I always looked forward to seeing her when she would visit CMA during my time there. She always had wisdom to share. Her memory was impeccable and she could recall events that happened 40 years ago with amazing clarity. She would make it a point to speak with everyone in the building. She was classy, a visionary, intelligent, hard-working, kind, strong and a uniter of people. The country music industry is better for having had Jo Walker-Meador in it. Nashville is better for having had Jo Walker-Meador in it. May she rest in peace.”

“Miss Jo was a beautiful expression of class, charm, grace and a life well lived. I will miss her smile and encouraging words,” says Troy Tomlinson, CMA Board member and President and CEO of Sony/ATV Publishing.

“Jo was an inspiration to a couple of generations of artists and executives in Nashville’s music industry,” says Jody Williams, CMA Board President-Elect and VP, Creative for BMI Nashville. “Along with dear friend Frances Preston, former CEO of BMI, Jo was responsible for creating community among all of the businesses on Music Row.  She led by example, was smart as a whip and accomplished so much for the CMA – securing the organization as the premiere country music trade association in the world. And she did all of this as one of the few female executives in the business, working with and leading hundreds of male business leaders.  In addition, she always greeted you with a big smile and was a natural born nurturer.”

“I don’t think that Jo’s impact on our community can be understated,” says Sally Williams, CMA Board Chairman and SVP of Programming & Artist Relations for Opry Entertainment. “Under her leadership, the CMA propelled our artists and industry to new heights, laying the groundwork for where we are today.”

Jo Walker-Meador inducting Mac Wiseman to the Country Music Hall of Fame in the 2014 Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo: Erika Goldring for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum


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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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