Nashville Sound Creator Anita Kerr Passes

Portrait of Anita Kerr from 1956 by Walden S. Fabry. Photo: Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Anita Kerr, who was a key figure in the development of The Nashville Sound, has died at age 94. She passed away on Monday (Oct. 10).

Kerr worked as an arranger and producer, often not credited, on many of the records that transformed Nashville into Music City. Her group, The Anita Kerr Singers, sang on the international pop hits of Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison, as well as on dozens of country classics.

The triple Grammy Award winner backed such Country Music Hall of Fame members as Red Foley, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, Patsy Cline, Ray Price and Willie Nelson. At her peak, Kerr was singing on a quarter of the singles produced on Music Row.

She was born Anita Jean Grilli in Memphis on Oct. 31, 1927. She began playing piano at an early age and formed The Grilli Sisters singing group. They broadcast on her mother’s local radio show on WHBQ. She became Memphis station WREC’s staff pianist at age 14.

Kerr formed The Anita Kerr Singers, who were hired to sing on WSM’s “Sunday Down South” radio show in Nashville in 1948. The group began singing backup harmonies on records in 1950 and signed to record for Decca in 1951.

In addition to lead soprano Kerr, the group coalesced to become tenor Gil Wright, alto Dottie Dillard (1923-2015) and baritone Louis Nunley (1931-2012). In 1956, they competed and won on the national TV competition Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and became regulars on the show from New York. But they continued to record prolifically in Nashville.

Along with Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, Anita Kerr was instrumental in smoothing the rough edges of “hillbilly music.” Kerr has been credited with introducing string sections on country records. She crafted arrangements that emphasized strings and creamy background harmony singing while downplaying such instruments as the banjo and the steel guitar. This trend, dubbed The Nashville Sound, resulted in huge country “pop-crossover” records.

Among the many big hits featuring The Anita Kerr Singers were “My Special Angel” and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (1957), “I’m Sorry” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (1960), “Only the Lonely” and “Running Scared” by Roy Orbison (1961), “Make the World Go Away” by Eddy Arnold (1965), “Detroit City” by Bobby Bare (1963), “The Three Bells” by The Browns (1959) and “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves (1959). Billed as The Little Dippers, the group scored its own top-10 pop hit with “Forever” in 1960.

In 1961, Chet Atkins hired Kerr to work for RCA. She conducted and supervised sessions for the label’s stars, including Dottie West, Porter Wagoner, Don Gibson, Hank Snow, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich, George Hamilton IV and Hank Locklin.

She wrote the string arrangement for Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” of 1961. Later that year, she produced and arranged “The End of the World” for Skeeter Davis. It became a massive country and pop hit in 1962. She co-produced the ensuing Davis LP with Atkins, although he was quick to give her the principle credit. This made her likely Nashville’s first female record producer.

In addition to country acts and Nashville’s homegrown pop talents (such as Sue Thompson, Johnny Tillotson, Pat Boone and The Everly Brothers), Kerr backed such pop visitors as Perry Como, Duane Eddy, Burl Ives, Esther Phillips, Ronnie Hawkins, Bobby Vinton, Jack Scott, Al Hirt, Brook Benton, Lorne Greene and Ann-Margret.

Her group also recorded hundreds of ad jingles and radio-station spots. In 1964, The Anita Kerr Singers were part of the ground-breaking RCA package tour of Europe, along with Atkins, Reeves and Bare.

She and her vocal ensemble continued to make records, too. Billed as Anita & The’ So-and-So’s, they made the pop charts in 1962 with “Joey Baby.” Recording for RCA, they earned Grammy Awards for the 1965 Nashville albums We Dig Mancini (in pop) and Southland Favorites (in gospel, with George Beverly Shea).

By the time those Grammy Awards were presented, Anita Kerr had moved from Music City to Los Angeles. There, she became a pre-curser of “new-age” music via her collaborations with poet Rod McKuen on the million-selling albums The Earth, The Sea and The Sky in 1967-68. She created the San Sebastian Strings. She was also hired as the choral director for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV show in 1967.

She earned her third Grammy Award in 1966 for her group’s performance of “A Man and a Woman.” In addition, she continued to create an abundance of easy-listening, “mood music” albums.

She moved to Switzerland with husband/manager Alex Grob in 1970. She conducted orchestras, composed soundtracks for films (as a female pioneer in this field), built a recording studio and made four devotional albums for Word during the next two decades. In 1992, she received a Governor’s Award from The Recording Academy.

Anita Kerr returned California in 1979. Eventually, she moved back to Memphis.

Kerr is survived by her husband; daughters, Kelley Kerr and Suzanne Trebert; five grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

Details regarding memorial services have not yet been announced.

Pop/Country Hitmaker Jody Miller Passes Away At 80

Grammy award-winning artist Jody Miller passed away on Thursday (Oct. 6) in Blanchard, Oklahoma from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. She was 80.

Miller first signed to Capitol Records as a folk artist in 1962, landing her first single, “He Walks Like a Man,” on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. Best known for her 1965 Grammy-winning hit, “Queen of the House,” Miller became an overnight sensation when the single crossed over from the pop to country charts. In 1966, she went on to win a Grammy for the song, becoming the second woman to pick up the trophy for Best Country Performance—Female.

Throughout the ’60s, Miller recorded for Capitol Records, releasing singles such as the hit teen pop anthem “Home of the Brave,” as well as the fan favorite “Long Black Limousine,” while making multiple appearances on teen shows such as Shindig and American Bandstand. In the ’70s, she began recording for Epic Records in Nashville and notched several hits including the top 5 singles “Baby I’m Yours,” There’s a Party Goin’ On,” “Darling, You Can Always Come Back Home,” and the Grammy-nominated crossover hit “He’s So Fine.” Miller also became a frequent guest on shows such as Hee Haw and Pop! Goes the Country.

In the early ’80s, Miller retired from touring to spend time with her daughter, Robin Brooks Sullivan, and husband, Monty Brooks, helping to manage his quarter horse business at their farm in Blanchard. In the early ’90s, Miller began a gospel music ministry, recording half a dozen gospel albums and eventually being inducted into the International Country Music Hall of Fame.

In recent years, Miller began performing with her daughter and grandchildren, Montana and Layla Sullivan, as Jody Miller and Three Generations, releasing a single in 2018 called “Where My Picture Hangs On the Wall.”

Dealing with the symptoms of Parkinson’s in the past few years, Miller entered the studio one last time in 2020 for an upcoming project, Wayfaring Stranger, on Heart of Texas Records. The title spiritual song was part of the artist’s folk repertoire back in the ’60s.

Funeral arrangements are currently pending.

Legendary Loretta Lynn Passes

Loretta Lynn. Photo: Les Leverett

Revered music icon Loretta Lynn died on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90.

A statement from Lynn’s family reads: “Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills.”

Known to millions as “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the iconic singer-songwriter rose from mountain poverty to become a member of The Country Music Hall of Fame. Her feisty songs made her a feminist heroine. The film based on her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, took her story around the world and won an Academy Award.

Among her enduring compositions are such country evergreens as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin,’” “Fist City,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” as well as her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

She also immortalized songs by others, such as “One’s On the Way,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “The Pill” and “Love Is the Foundation.” In addition, Lynn had strings of hits as the duet partner of her fellow Hall of Fame members, Ernest Tubb (1914-1984) and Conway Twitty (1933-1993).

Born Loretta Webb in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, she was raised in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters. She was just a teenager when she married Oliver “Doolittle”/”Mooney” Lynn (1927-1996). He believed in her singing talent, bought her a guitar, urged her to begin writing songs, pushed her to perform live and entered her in talent contests near their home in Washington State.

Buck Owens (1929-2006) began to feature her on his Takoma television show. A Canadian businessman saw her on it and financed a trip to L.A. to record her self-penned 1960 debut single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Husband “Doo” found a list of country radio stations and drove her across the country to visit them one-by-one.

Released on tiny Zero Records, the single made the national country charts and brought her to Nashville. Lynn made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry singing it on Oct. 15, 1960.

Established Opry stars The Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings and signed her to management and publishing contracts. Teddy Wilburn (1931-2003) helped her polish her songwriting. Doyle Wilburn (1930-1982) engineered a Decca Records contract with producer Owen Bradley (1915-1998). The duo promoted her and her resulting Decca singles on their nationally syndicated TV series.

Loretta Lynn. Photo: Russ Harrington

Produced by Bradley, “Success” became her first Decca success. On the strength of that 1962 hit, the Wilburns lobbied the Opry to add her to its cast. She became an Opry member on Sept. 24, 1962. “Before I’m Over You” (1963) and “Wine, Women and Song” (1964) were her next big hits.

Superstar Ernest Tubb chose her as his duet partner, and the team succeeded with “Mr. and Mrs. Used To Be” (1964), “Our Hearts Are Holding Hands” (1965), “Sweet Thang” (1967) and “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” (1969). Lynn’s solo singles continued to thrive as well. “Happy Birthday,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “The Home You’re Tearin’ Down” all became hits in 1965.

By the late 1960s, Loretta Lynn was steamrolling the country charts. “Dear Uncle Sam” (1966), “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (1966), “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” (1967), “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” (1967) and “What Kind of Girl” (1967) led to a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1967.

Owen Bradley called her “the female Hank Williams.” He continued to produce such disc classics as “Fist City” (1968), “You’ve Just Stepped In” (1968), “Your Squaw Is On the Warpath” (1968), “Woman of the World” (1969), “To Make a Man” (1969) and “Wings Upon Your Horns” (1969).

Decca hoped lightning would strike twice by signing her brother Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and sister Peggy Sue, both of whom had country chart hits. Baby sister Crystal Gayle (Brenda Gail Webb) also began her career at Decca, but didn’t rise to stardom until the 1970s on United Artists.

Loretta Lynn’s own star rose ever higher in the 1970s. She began the decade with 1970’s “I Know How,” “You Wanna Give Me a Lift” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” all major hits.

She began singing duets with Conway Twitty and instantly hit the top of the charts with 1971’s “After the Fire Is Gone,” which won a Grammy Award. The two went on to have more than a dozen hits together, including “Lead Me On” (1971), “Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man” (1973), “Feelin’s” (1975), “I Can’t Love You Enough” (1977), “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (1978) and “Lovin’ What Your Lovin’ Does to Me” (1981). The team earned four Duo of the Year awards from the CMA in 1972-75.

In 1971-73, Lynn scored such solo blockbusters as “I Wanna Be Free,” “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” “One’s on the Way,” “Here I Am Again,” “Rated X,” “Love Is the Foundation” and “Hey Loretta.” These resulted in Female Vocalist of the Year honors from the CMA in 1972 and 1973. Furthermore, in 1972, she became the first woman to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year prize.

The mainstream media took notice. She was featured in Ms magazine and made the covers of Newsweek (1973) and Redbook (1974). Her infectious personality, plain-spoken honesty and down-home wit made her a favorite on the TV talk-show circuit. She starred in national TV commercials for Crisco. Her 1976 autobiography became a New York Times best-seller.

Her fan club became an industry model. It morphed into the umbrella International Fan Club Organization (IFCO) and backed the establishment of Fan Fair (now the CMA Music Festival) in 1972.

Lynn’s devotion to her fans became legendary, but it came at a price. The pressures of stardom, constant travel and unending work took a toll on her physical and mental health. In 1976, she suffered a complete breakdown while on stage in Illinois. She was hospitalized several times for exhaustion.

But the country hits continued uninterrupted as Lynn scaled the charts with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy” (1974), “Trouble in Paradise” (1974), “The Pill” (1975), “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill” (1976) and “Somebody Somewhere” (1976).

Patsy Cline (1932-1963) had been Lynn’s female mentor early in her career. Loretta Lynn’s tribute LP to the legendary singer resulted in the 1977 hits “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You.”

Lynn finished the decade with the country hits “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed” (1977), “Spring Fever” (1978), “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby” (1978), “I Can’t Feel You Anymore” (1979) and “I’ve Got a Picture of Us in My Mind” (1979).

Coal Miner’s Daughter became a film triumph in 1980, and Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for portraying Lynn. Another wave of media attention ensued.

Lynn formed her own booking agency and song publishing company. She established western-wear clothing stores and opened the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch on her antebellum property in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

The hits slowed in the 1980s, but she still scored top-20 hits with “Cheatin’ on a Cheater” (1980), “Somebody Led Me Away” (1981), “I Lie” (1982), “Making Love From Memory” (1982) and “Heart Don’t Do This to Me” (1985).

During this same period, a series of major honors and accolades commenced. In 1980, the Academy of Country Music named her its Artist of the Decade for the 1970s. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983. She entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.

Collaborations with others also kept her in the news. In 1987, the Grammy-nominated “Honky Tonk Angels Medley” teamed her with k.d. lang, Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells. Also applauded and Grammy nominated was her 1993 collaboration with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, Honky Tonk Angels and its single/video “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

A famously hard-working concert artist, Loretta Lynn largely stayed off the road between 1991 and 1996 to care for her ailing husband. After his death, she was so numb with grief that she became almost completely uncommunicative for a year.

She rebounded on disc with her CD Still Country (2000), which contained songs about her mourning. She made the charts with its single, “Country in My Genes.” She was 68 years old at the time, which made her country’s senior charting female artist.

Loretta Lynn. Photo: David McClister

Lynn received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. The following year, she was given a BMI Icon Award. She issued two more books, Still Woman Enough (2002) and You’re Cookin’ It Country (2004).

Even more notoriety came with the release of her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. Produced by rock star Jack White, it won two Grammy Awards. She was inducted into New York’s mainstream Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008 and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. President Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

A 2010 Loretta Lynn tribute album resulted in her last chart appearance to date, a remake of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow. This made her the only female country artist to chart in six consecutive decades.

Since then, Lynn has published another book, 2012’s Honky-Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics. She resumed her recording career with Full Circle (2015), White Christmas Blue (2016) and Wouldn’t It Be Great (2018). These were co-produced by John Carter Cash and daughter Patsy Lynn, the latter of whom also served as her mother’s manager in recent years.

Loretta Lynn has released more than 60 albums, written more than 160 songs, had 16 No. 1’s and 50 top-10 hits, been awarded six Gold Records and charted 82 titles. She has sold a reported 45 million units.

In May 2017, the superstar suffered a stroke. She recovered enough to induct Alan Jackson into the Country Music Hall of Fame five months later. In January 2018, Lynn fell and broke her hip. She began making media appearances to promote Wouldn’t It Be Great that fall, but was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory infection in October 2018.

Her oldest son, Jack Benny Lynn, died in a drowning accident in 1984. Her songwriter daughter, Betty Sue, passed away in 2013. She is survived by son Ernest Ray Lynn, who worked as her opening act on the road. Lynn is also survived by daughters Cissy and her singing twins Peggy and Patsy, as well as by 27 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Lynn was buried in her family’s cemetery on her Hurricane Mills on Oct. 7. A public memorial is expected to follow.

The family has asked for privacy during this time, as they grieve. In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to be made to the Loretta Lynn Foundation.

Musicians Hall Of Fame Founder Joe Chambers Passes

Joe Chambers. Photo: Courtesy of Musicians Hall of Fame

Joe Chambers, who founded The Musicians Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville, died on Sept. 28.

Prior to becoming CEO of the multi-million-dollar museum, Chambers was a guitarist, record producer and songwriter on Music Row. The Georgia native arrived in Nashville in 1978 as a member of a rock band seeking recording opportunities. Producer Billy Sherrill and superstar Conway Twitty took him under their wings.

Sherrill became his mentor and tutor, allowing Chambers to shadow him in the recording studio. He also gave the guitarist a job at CBS Records and signed him as a staff songwriter for his publishing company.

As Chambers watched Sherrill conduct sessions for George Jones, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, Marty Robbins, Tammy Wynette and others, he became fascinated by the skills of Nashville’s session musicians. They were the original basis of his museum dream.

Meanwhile, Chambers began to rack up credits as a songwriter. During the 1980s and 1990s, his songs were recorded by Twitty, Jones, Joe Diffie, Ronnie McDowell, Johnny Paycheck, Mel McDaniel, Lacy J. Dalton, The Bama Band, Terri Gibbs, Leon Everette, B.J. Thomas, Ken Mellons and others.

Among his notable copyrights are “I Meant Every Word He Said” (Ricky Van Shelton, 1990), “It’s Hard to Be the Dreamer (When I Used to Be the Dream)” (Donna Fargo, 1982), “Old 8×10” (Randy Travis, 1988), “Beneath a Painted Sky” (Tammy Wynette & Emmylou Harris, 1988) and “Somebody Lied” (Ricky Van Shelton, 1987).

In 1985, Joe Chambers opened Chambers Guitars. This soon expanded into a small chain of instrument stores. Through Chambers Guitars, he expanded his relationships with musicians of all genres and in all music capitals.

Around 1998, he began to explore the idea of creating a television special focused on the musicians who were behind hit songs. The TV show never happened, but Chambers held onto the idea of honoring musicians. He also began collecting artifacts from hit recording sessions.

In 2006, he opened The Musicians Hall of Fame in a former electronics business building on Sixth Avenue South. The 30,000-square-foot facility was unique in the world, and its annual awards galas were star-studded affairs.

But in 2009-10, Chambers became involved in a tangle with Metro government. The city seized his building to make way for the construction of The Music City Center, but did not offer him enough money to relocate it. He stored the artifacts, which were then damaged in the 2010 Nashville flood.

In 2013, the museum found a new home in the spacious old exhibit hall of Municipal Auditorium, which more than doubled its size. Various exhibit spaces are dedicated to The Wrecking Crew of Los Angeles, The Funk Brothers of Detroit, the Memphis Boys, the Swampers of Muscle Shoals, Nashville’s As-Team and the session players of New York, Miami, New Orleans and other music centers.

The Musicians Hall of Fame also houses an outpost of The Grammy Museum and the displays of the annual SOURCE honorees, women who helped to build Nashville’s music industry.

When Neil Young visited, he said, “If you want to see the hood ornaments on the car, go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you want to see the engine, to see what makes it run, go to The Musicians Hall of Fame.”

Joe Chambers and his wife Linda dedicated their lives to the museum, personally funding it and working diligently to make it a part of Nashville’s hospitality industry. The building is visited by school groups, tourists, music-industry insiders and music fans from all over the world. It also hosts after-hours events for various Nashville businesses and convention groups. There is a YouTube channel devoted to it, too.

Joe Chambers passed away at Vanderbilt Hospital following an extended illness. A celebration of his life is being planned. Funeral arrangements have not been announced. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Musicians Hall of Fame.

Nashville A-Team Guitarist Ray Edenton Passes

Ray Edenton in a recording session at Columbia Studio B in Nashville, 1960s. Photo: Courtesy of the Hubert Long Collection, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Ray Edenton, the rhythm guitarist in Nashville’s fabled “A-Team” of classic session musicians, has died at age 95. Edenton’s family confirmed his death to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He was a native of Mineral, Virginia, who was born Nov. 3, 1926. His grandfather was a fiddler and two older brothers were also musicians. Edenton was playing guitar by age 6.

Following army service during World War II, he worked with Joe Maphis at WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia. In 1949, he relocated to WNOX in Knoxville.

Edenton moved to Nashville in 1952 and began playing acoustic guitar at the Grand Ole Opry. He transitioned to recording-session work the following year. Two of the earliest hits he played on were “There Stands the Glass” by Webb Pierce in 1953 and “One By One,” a 1954 duet by Kitty Wells and Red Foley.

His playing is particularly prominent on the 1956 smash “Singing the Blues” by Marty Robbins. It is one of the few discs on which he played lead guitar.

He also played mandolin, bass, banjo and ukulele, but most of his session work is characterized by his steady, throbbing, unobtrusive rhythm-guitar playing. He played on the early hits by The Everly Brothers, matching his driving acoustic rhythms with those of Don Everly and Chet Atkins on such 1957 discs as “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”

His studio worked picked up in the 1960s, and he remained constantly busy throughout the next two decades. It would be easier to name the country artists he did not record with than to list all of those he did. Ray Edenton appeared on records by more than 50 Country Music Hall of Fame members.

Along with the rest of the Nashville A-Team, Ray Edenton was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.

His widow, Polly Roper Edenton, is a 2003 SOURCE Hall of Fame honoree, thanks to her rise from RCA receptionist, 1960-62, to session scheduler at Columbia Studios, 1962-68. She was executive assistant to Owen Bradley at Decca/MCA in 1968-75, tried to retire and then became the office manager for Floyd Cramer in 1978-91.

Services for Edenton have not yet been announced.

Veteran Music Row Leader Terry Choate Passes

Terry Choate

Known as a consummate “song man,” Terry D. Choate died yesterday (Sept. 14) in North Carolina.

During his career on Music Row, Choate was a song plugger, record producer, label executive, music publisher, instrumentalist, audio engineer and a music supervisor for television.

In recent years, he has been noted as the producer of a string of albums by Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. These include Pilgrimage (2009), Sing Their Family Gospel Favorites (2004), A Christmas Celebration (2003) and A Gatlin Brothers Christmas (2002). Choate also produced and championed traditionalist Teea Goans, helming her 2010 release The Way I Remember It, 2015’s Memories to Burn, 2017’s Swing, Shuffle & Sway and other recordings.

Terry Choate produced 2007’s Jumpin’ Time for Nashville’s acclaimed western-swing ensemble The Time Jumpers. The group has since been nominated for several Grammy and Americana awards.

Other production clients have included Del Reeves, Simon & Verity, Jay Booker, The Osmonds, Tammy Cline and Gene Stroman. In addition, he was a steel guitarist who appeared on records by John Conlee, Marie Osmond and others.

A native North Carolinian, Terry Choate began his show-business career by working as a radio announcer in 1968-75. He was at Tree International in 1975-84. Initially, the publishing company hired him as a song plugger. He rose to become a music manager and an in-house demo producer. He was an audio engineer on 1980 albums by Rafe Van Hoy, Bobby Braddock and Rock Killough, all of whom were Tree writers.

In 1984, new Capitol Records chief Jim Foglesong hired Terry Choate as the label’s A&R manager. The label moved into its new office at 1111 16th Ave. S. and dramatically increased the size of its staff and roster.

The artist roster included Mel McDaniel, Sawyer Brown, Michael Martin Murphey, Thom Schuyler, Lane Brody, Becky Hobbs and Anne Murray. The last-named won Single and Album of the Year CMA honors in 1984 with “A Little Good News.” Murray and Dave Loggins won Duo of the Year in 1985, the same year that Sawyer Brown won the CMA Horizon Award.

By 1987, Choate had been promoted to Director of A&R for both Capitol and its EMI America imprint. Under his leadership, the roster expanded with the additions of New Grass Revival, Tanya Tucker, Dobie Gray, Dan Seals, Barbara Mandrell, Kix Brooks, Tom Wopat, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, Don Williams, The Osmonds and Johnny Rodriguez.

Seals won a CMA Single of the Year award for “Bop” in 1986, as well as the Duo of the Year award with Marie Osmond. Meanwhile, Capitol’s Nashville office moved into rock music in 1985-89 by signing Jason & The Scorchers, Walk the West, The Questionaires and The Thieves. In 1989, the label introduced Garth Brooks.

In addition to his label duties, Terry Choate was highly active in a number of Music Row organizations. He served as vice president of the Nashville chapter of The Recording Academy, was a board member of the NSAI and organized the annual Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions. He became the board chair of the Nashville Songwriters Foundation. He was also a member of the AFM, the ACM and the Nashville Entertainment Association.

When Jimmy Bowen replaced Jim Foglesong, he replaced all of the latter’s Capitol executives in 1990. Choate formed his Crosswind Corporation and began to prosper as an independent record producer.

Choate had type 1 diabetes. In 2020, he was found unresponsive in a diabetic coma at his Nashville apartment. Paramedics saved his life.

In May, he developed a sepsis infection in his left foot, which had to be partially amputated the following month. Since that surgery, Choate has remained in the hospital and in hospice. He has been unconscious the majority of the time. Doctors were unable to explain why he couldn’t wake up.

His wife, Cheri, retired early from her teaching profession to care for him. Last month, a GoFundMe account was established to raise funds to help pay for the family’s mounting medical bills.

According to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame’s executive director Mark Ford, Terry Choate died Wednesday morning while in hospice care. He was 68 years old.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Fisk Leader Dr. Paul Kwami Passes

Dr. Paul T. Kwami (center) with The Fisk Jubilee Singers. Photo: Jason Davis, Getty Images for Fisk Jubilee Singers

Dr. Paul T. Kwami, the director of The Fisk Jubilee Singers died Saturday (Sept. 10) at age 70.

Kwami took the 151-year-old Nashville musical institution into the modern era. During his 28-year tenure as the group’s leader, The Fisk Jubilee Singers won its first Grammy Award, undertook its first African tour, was honored with a National Medal of Arts and entered the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, among other accomplishments.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were Nashville’s first stars. Founded in 1871, the group popularized slave spirituals. They were the first act to circumnavigate the globe on tour and performed before all the crowned heads of Europe. The group has been recording since 1909.

Paul Theophilus Kwami was born and raised in the West African nation of Ghana. He became a pianist and music teacher before emigrating to the U.S. in 1982 to pursue graduate studies at Fisk University.

While a student in Nashville, he was a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1983-85. He earned his master’s degree at Western Michigan University, then returned to Fisk to become the Jubilee Singers director in 1994.

In 1999, the singers portrayed their 19th-century musical ancestors for reenactment segments of a PBS documentary in the American Experience series. They were signed to Curb Records and released the CD In Bright Mansions in 2003. One of the CD’s tracks, “Poor Man Lazarus” won a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association.

The following year, Kwami began updating the ensemble’s repertoire and outreach. The group was soon collaborating on stages and in the studio with pop, folk, gospel and country stars, from Neil Young to Shania Twain. Among the group’s collaborators since have been Hank Williams Jr., Danny Glover, Faith Hill, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Keb’ Mo’, The Fairfield Four, Lee Ann Womack, CeCe Winans and Natalie Cole.

In 2000, the Jubilees became the subjects of the book Dark Midnight When I Rise. This evolved into an acclaimed PBS documentary film, Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory. A second book about the group was 2010’s Tell Them We Are Singing for Jesus.

In 2006, The Fisk Jubilee Singers were honored with a star on the Music City Walk of Fame. The group was celebrated at the Recording Academy Honors ceremony in Nashville, along with Loretta Lynn and others in 2007. This is also when the singers were honored with a Tennessee Governors Award in the Arts. Later that year, the choir toured Kwami’s homeland, Ghana.

The ensemble was chosen to receive a National Medal of Arts in 2008. Paul Kwami earned a doctorate of music degree from Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music in 2009.

Under Kwami’s directorship, the Fisk Jubilee Singers performed at venues including the Apollo Theatre, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Institute, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, White House and several Spanish and Italian halls.

Kwami also stepped up the group’s recording activities. Its new-millennium collections have included Sacred Journey (2007), The Fisk Jubilee Singers (2011), Roll Jordan Roll (2015) and I Want to Be Ready (2021).

Its 2021 recording Celebrating Fisk! The 150th Anniversary Album won a Grammy Award in the Best Roots Gospel Album category. Also in that year, The Fisk Jubilee Singers were honored by the Americana Music Association with the AMA’s Legacy of Americana award.

The Grammy-winning album was produced by Shannon Sanders. He reported that the current members of The Fisk Jubilee Singers gathered last week at the hospital where Kwami was ill. They sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” outside his room.

Paul Kwami served as a board member for the W.O. Smith Community Music School, the Nashville Advisory Council, the Gospel Music Association Foundation and the Schermerhorn Symphony Committee.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Artist Manager Jerry Bentley Passes

Jerry Bentley with Lee Greenwood

Jerry Bentley, the former manager of Lee Greenwood, passed away at his home just outside of Huntsville, Alabama on Sunday (Aug. 28). He was 80.

Bentley served as a Marine and was wounded in Vietnam in 1967. He spent 15 years at GTE before joining Greenwood’s team in 1984, becoming his closest friend and most trusted advisor for 45 years. Over the years, he worked with many of Nashville’s finest, even earning an IEBA (International Entertainment Buyer’s Association) award. In recent years he had retired to spend more time with wife Elaine, daughters Beth and Laurie, and his grandchildren, whom he treasured.


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“One of the finest southern gentlemen and American patriots entered his heavenly home, my manager and good friend of 45 years, Jerry Bentley,” said Lee Greenwood in a statement. “Kim, Parker, Dalton, Sarah, and our entire LG Inc family from throughout the years are lifting the Bentley family up in our prayers. Our admiration and love for all of you is endless. Thank you for all you have contributed to our family.”

Visitation for Jerry Bentley was held yesterday (Aug. 30) at Laughlin Service Funeral Home in Huntsville, Alabama. The funeral will be at 1:00 p.m. today (Aug. 31) at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville. Burial will be in Mt. Zion Cemetery.

Services Set For Noted Promoter Bob Burwell

Bob Burwell

A memorial service has been scheduled on Saturday (Aug. 27) for longtime country-music entrepreneur Bob Burwell.

Burwell died in Albany, New York on Aug. 13 at age 71. He managed, promoted or booked such artists as Kenny Rogers, Lee Roy Parnell, Steve Vai, The Oak Ridge Boys and Michael Martin Murphey. He co-created the Warner Western label and developed such major cowboy-music events as West/Fest.

Following college in New York State, Bob Burwell went to work at the Jim Halsey Company in Tulsa. He worked with Don Williams, Roy Clark, the Oaks and others there, which led him to relocate to Nashville.

On Music Row, he worked at DreamCatcher Management and Vector Management. He promoted million-selling tours by Rogers and shepherded Murphey and a generation of western-music artists, encompassing cowboy (Don Edwards, Sons of the San Joaquin), Native American (Bill Miller) and African-American (Herb Jeffries) western-music stylists.

Burwell’s annual West/Fest concerts took place in New Mexico, Texas, California and Colorado. They were succeeded by festivals that showcased this music, as well as arts, crafts, poetry and more. These took place at Copper Mountain, Colorado.

In addition to the above mentioned, the Warner Western 1992-98 label roster included Red Steagall, Waddie Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Ranger Doug, Bill & Bonnie Hearne, Rex Allen Jr., Robert Mirabal, Michael Martin Murphey, Tim Ryan and Joni Harms.

Bob Burwell is survived by wife Dana, daughter Carly, brother Mike and sister Sue Lundquist, plus many nephews, nieces and cousins. Services will be held at 10 AM at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Kemnore, 576 Delaware Rd. in Buffalo. Internment will follow at Glenwood Cemetery in Silver Creek, New York.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to MusiCares.

Carlee Ann Vaughn, Wife Of Warner Chappell’s Ben Vaughn, Passes Away

Carlee Ann Vaughn

Warner Chappell Nashville President & CEO Ben Vaughn is mourning the loss of his wife, Carlee Ann Vaughn. Carlee passed away on Tuesday (Aug. 23) following a 15-year battle with brain cancer. She was 45.

Carlee was born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in Culpeper, Virginia. She moved to Nashville in 1994 to attend Belmont University, where she met her husband Ben. The two got engaged on the University’s campus and married on May 30, 1998.

Carlee supported Ben’s successful career as a longtime music executive in Nashville, including time at EMI Music Publishing and now at Warner Chappell. According to those that know her, Carlee’s greatest calling in life was being a mother to her three children: Ruby Elisabeth, age 19, Griffin Charles, age 17, and Ezekiel Earl, age 12. When the children were younger, she wrote and sang each of them a lullaby. They always assumed it was a classic children’s song, but later found out that their mother had written it for them.

Carlee Ann Vaughn loved music, spending time with her two boys, and baking with her daughter.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that gifts be made to the Carlee Vaughn Brain Tumor Research fund in hopes that others can be helped in their journey. To make a memorial, please send a check made payable to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to:

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Development
P. O. Box 290369
525 Royal Parkway
Nashville, TN 37229

Please include a note with the check or indicate on the memo line that the gift is made in memory of Carlee Vaughn.

Gifts can also be made online at Please select the checkbox next to “Dedicate my donation in honor or in memory of someone.”