Country Music’s Visionary TV Producer Jim Owens Dies

Jim Owens

Jim Owens, the visionary producer who revolutionized country music television production, died on Friday (March 4). His wife of nearly 40 years, Lorianne Crook, was by his side.

Owens was born in South Carolina on Aug. 27, 1937. Trained in New York, Owens would become one of the most influential television producers in country music. His first foray into national syndication came in 1977 when he created and produced A Concert Behind Prison Walls with Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, and Roy Clark.

The following year Owens launched country music’s first fan-voted, big budget, live award show: the Music City News Country Awards. Rated No. 1 in national syndication, the program recognized the appetite for country music content. Owens produced and syndicated the awards show via his own company through 1984.

Pictured (L-R): Lorianne Crook, Jim Owens, Charlie Chase

In 1983, Owens paired entertainment news correspondent Lorianne Crook with veteran radio personality and local television host Charlie Chase to create an Entertainment Tonight-esque program for country music. The program became Owens’ landmark show, This Week in Country Music, providing entertainment news, interviews and performances to the country lifestyle viewer. With Owens at the helm, Crook & Chase quickly gained recognition and popularity. The duo was named official TNN ambassadors and took the show on location around the world. Between 1985 and 1999 productions originated from Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Myrtle Beach, and Orlando, as well as Canada, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

In 1985, The Nashville Network entered an agreement to exclusively partner with Jim Owens Entertainment for original content creation. Over the next 15 years, Owens independently created and produced much of the highest rated programming on TNN: the first daily and weekly country music news shows, award shows, variety specials, musical documentaries, lifestyle programming, and more. Owens and Crook also married in 1985.

Owens delivered a massive amount of programming for TNN in the 1980s and 1990s, including the TNN/Music City News Country Awards (1985-1996), Weekday (1988-1990), Weekend (1988-1990), Country Standard Time (1990-1991), TNN/Music City News Songwriters Awards (1991-1995), and Yesteryear (1994-1995).

In 1993, Owens negotiated with TNN to place Crook & Chase in the primetime 90-minute flagship slot held by Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now. With more than 500 episodes in the vaults, Music City Tonight signed off in 1995 at the height of country’s boom to enable the duo to morph Crook & Chase back into national syndication from Universal Studios in Hollywood. At the same time, the duo released their best-selling autobiography Crook & Chase: Our Lives, The Music & The Stars.

During this era, Owens also contributed to Celebrities Offstage with Lorianne Crook (1988-1995), Funny Business with Charlie Chase (1989-1995), Crook & Chase Tonight (1997) and This Year In Country Music (1989-1999).

When TNN closed in 2000, Owens produced, and Crook hosted a series of Celebrities Offstage specials as well as 180 episodes of Celebrity Kitchen for GAC. In 2007, Owens navigated the return of Crook & Chase to television, initially on RFD and later in syndication through 2014. Since 1989, The Crook & Chase Countdown, currently distributed by iHeart Media, is heard on hundreds of radio stations across North America. Owens executive produced the countdown, along with its companion podcast, Crook & Chase Nashville Chats, until his passing.

Since 2011, Jim Owens Entertainment has held the trademarks for TNN: The Nashville Network. With a 45-year library of original productions and raw footage totaling over 10,000 hours, Owens’ legacy of presenting compelling country lifestyle programming is secured.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations in Owens’ name to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s digital preservation efforts. Supporting this initiative will honor Owens’ lifelong mission to forever document country music’s global impact. Arrangements are pending.

‘60s Country Star Warner Mack Passes

Warner Mack, who died on Tuesday (March 1) in suburban Nashville, had a dozen top 10 country hits during the 1960s and is remembered as an award-winning songwriter.

Mack wrote the country evergreens “Is It Wrong (For Loving You),” “Talkin’ to the Wall” and “After the Lights Go Out,” all of which won BMI awards. As a singer, he scored a No. 1 hit with “The Bridge Washed Out” in 1965. His career was hampered by health problems that lasted for decades.

He was born Warner Hensley McPherson Jr. in Nashville on April 2, 1935. His father was a Presbyterian minister. The family moved to Jackson, Tennessee when he was seven and to Vicksburg, Mississippi when he was nine.

From an early age, Mack was enthralled by music. He taught himself to play guitar and was writing songs by his teens. He reportedly wrote “Is It Wrong” at age 13 in the wake of a teenage romance.

He became a standout athlete in high school. His football skills led to scholarship offers from Louisiana and Mississippi. Because of his baseball prowess, the St. Louis Cardinals scouted him.

But music was his calling. The McPherson family — Warner, his parents and his two sisters — sang together at many community events. He convinced WVIM in Vicksburg to hire him as a DJ. Warner Mack got his start as a professional performer on The Louisiana Hayride over KWKH in Shreveport. Joining Red Foley’s televised Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, garnered him a wider following.

A 1957 demo recording session in Jackson, Mississippi led to a recording contract with Decca, which shortened his last name from McPherson to Mack. The label issued his “Is It Wrong (For Loving You)” in 1958. It became a top 10 hit and crossed over to the pop charts. Webb Pierce made the song a hit again in 1960, and Sonny James took it to No. 1 on the country hit parade in 1974. It has also been recorded by Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn, Mike Lunsford, Wanda Jackson, Ray Peterson, Mickey Gilley, Gilbert Ortega and many more.

Decca aimed his subsequent singles at the emerging teen-music market. Warner Mack’s “Roc-A-Chicka” is considered a rockabilly classic. But the record stalled on the pop charts when radio programmers believed they heard the “f” word in its lyrics. Mack left Decca in 1959. When he returned to the label in 1962, it was as a solidly country performer.

His second Decca career took off in 1964 with the hits “Surely” and “Sittin’ in an All-Night Cafe.” Late that year, Warner Mack was severely injured in an automobile accident during a snowstorm near Princeton, Indiana. He was laid up for months.

He returned to the country charts with the No. 1 hit “The Bridge Washed Out” in 1965. Marty Stuart recorded his version of this classic in 2010. The song has also been recorded by Junior Brown, Rick Nelson, George Jones and Buck Owens.

Warner Mack notched up seven consecutive top 10 country hits in 1966-68. One of them, 1966’s “Talkin’ to the Wall,” also became a top-10 hit for Lynn Anderson in 1974.

In 1965, Warner Mack became the first country artist to record a national Coca-Cola jingle. He recorded a string of radio shows directed to the armed serves. Between 1964 and 1971, he released nine albums.

Success continued for Mack in 1969 with his self-composed top-10 hits “Leave My Dream Alone” and “I’ll Still Be Missing You.” During the next four years, he placed eight more singles on the country charts, all of which he wrote.

But throughout this period, he was plagued by after effects from the car crash. He underwent 11 surgeries for internal injuries. By 1974, he was unable to continue, and Decca released him from its roster.

During the 1970s, he established his own record label (Pageboy), song-publishing company (Bridgewood) and retail establishment (Warner Mack’s Country Store). His songwriting sustained him. Warner Mack’s songs have been recorded by Brenda Lee, Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Pat Boone, Charlie Louvin and Jean Shepard, among others. In 1992, Ricky Van Shelton had a big hit with the songwriter’s “After the Lights Go Out.”

Warner Mack toured England in 1982 and 1984. He released two newly recorded albums in 1992. His final project was apparently a 2020 collection titled Better Than Ever. The German label Bear Family Records reissued Warner Mack’s rockabilly and teen-pop discs on a 2011 CD collection titled Baby Squeeze Me.

The singer-songwriter had been in ill health, reportedly battling various ailments, eye problems and Parkinson’s Disease. Warner Mack’s passing was reported on several online sites — Wikipedia, Country Insider, Country Aircheck, and on Facebook (by Richard L. White).

Arrangements are pending and being handled by Woodbine Hickory Chapel Funeral Home, 5852 Nolensville Pike, Nashville.

Hit Country Songwriter Mike Dekle Passes

Georgia-based songwriter Mike Dekle died Thursday (Feb. 24) at age 77 after a battle with lung disease.

His biggest songwriting hits included “Scarlet Fever” by Kenny Rogers (1983), “Don’t Love Make a Diamond Shine” by Tracy Byrd (1997), “Size Matters (Someday)” by Joe Nichols (2006) and “Country Must Be Country Wide” by Brantley Gilbert (2011). Gilbert’s version of their co-written “One Hell of an Amen” topped the country charts in 2014.

Pictured (L-R): Co-writers Mike Dekle, Brantley Gilbert, and Brian Davis at the No. 1 party for “One Hell of An Amen.” Photo: Valory Music Co.

Noted as a hard-core country tunesmith, Dekle had his songs recorded by Ricky Skaggs, Hank Thompson, Moe Bandy, The Whites. T.G. Sheppard, Scooter Lee, Colt Ford and Rhonda Vincent, among others.

He was born in Panama City, Florida, and the family moved to Athens, Georgia when he was five. Dekle began his career as a folk singer in coffeehouses in the 1960s. He moved to Nashville in the 1970s, hoping to make a life as either a singer or a songwriter.

Neither career panned out. So Mike Dekle spent most of the next three decades in Athens, Georgia as a State Farm insurance agent while pursuing country songwriting on the side.

He met songwriter/publisher Byron Hill in 1982. Hill produced Dekle’s record of “Scarlet Fever.” Kenny Rogers picked up the tune and signed Dekle to his publishing company. The superstar subsequently recorded the Dekle tunes “Two Hearts One Love,” “People in Love,” “Someone Must Feel Like a Fool Tonight” and “Some Prisons Don’t Have Walls.”

As a singer, Mike Dekle made the bottom rungs of the country charts in 1984 with his self-composed “Hanky-Panky” and “The Minstrel.”

Following his stint writing for Rogers, Dekle signed with Byron Hill’s publishing company, Song Source. He also continued to co-write with Hill, securing a number of recordings during the next few years. Keith Whitley recorded the songwriting team’s “A Day in the Life of a Fool.” Gene Watson sang their collaboration “No Trash in My Trailer.” Dekle and Hill remained lifelong friends.

In 1990, Dekle launched his own song-publishing company, Square D Music. He signed with Almo Irving Music in 1994.

He continued to sing, as well. Mike Dekle released six albums, Wood and Wire (1982), Fine Tuned (1999), Sketches (2003), Tunesmith (2005), Tributes (2009) and That Kinda Guy (2019).

Mike Dekle is survived by his wife Crystie and by their children and grandchildren. His death was announced by Lord & Stephens Funeral Home East Chapel in Athens, Georgia. A Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, American Diabetes Association, Athens First Baptist Church Athens Building Fund or a charity of choice.

Nashville Songwriter Kerry Chater Passes

Singer-songwriter Kerry Chater has died at age 76.

Chater is best known as the co-writer of such chart-topping hits as “You Look So Good in Love” (George Strait, 1984), “I Know a Heartache When I See One” (Jennifer Warnes, 1979), “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” (Reba McEntire, 1983) and the Grammy nominated “I.O.U.” (Lee Greenwood, 1983).

Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1945, Kerry Michael Chater was trained as a keyboardist and arranger. In 1966 in San Diego, he became a founding member of the hit pop band Gary Puckett & The Union Gap (“Woman, Woman,” “Young Girl,” “Lady Willpower,” etc.). Chater played bass in the group, was its bandleader and co-wrote some of its album tracks.

He left the Union Gap in 1970 to pursue a solo career. Chater studied musical theater and wrote several shows that were produced in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

Signed by Warner Bros. Records, he debuted as a solo artist with the 1976 LP Part Time Love. Its title track appeared briefly on the pop charts in 1977. Love on a Shoestring was issued as his second album in 1978.

“I Know a Heartache When I See One” launched his hit-making career as a songwriter in 1979. In addition to its pop and country hit version by Jennifer Warnes, the song was recorded by Jo Dee Messina, Anne Kirkpatrick, Lisa Brokop, Charlotte Whitted, Donna Fargo, Sandy Posey and a number of others.

The big hits by Strait, McEntire and Greenwood ensued in the 1980s. The Strait hit “You Look So Good in Love” has also been sung by such artists as Blake Shelton, Craig Wayne Boyd and Jamie Foxx.

Kerry Chater also co-wrote Alabama’s 1989 No. 1 hit “If I Had You.” Other notable titles by him include Michael Martin Murphey’s “What She Wants” (1985), Charlie Rich’s “Even a Fool Would Let Go” (1980), Paul Brandt’s “I Meant to Do That” (1997) and Jessica Andrews’ “You Go First” (1999).

Among the others who have recorded his songs are Kenny Rogers, Joe Cocker, Mindy McCready, Restless Heart, Highway 101, Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Anne Murray, Eddy Raven, Dolly Parton and Lorrie Morgan.

A resident of Music City since 1987, Chater married songwriter Lynn Gillespie, who became his composing collaborator. In recent years, they have been co-writing with bluegrass star Donna Ulisse.

The couple also wrote books. The Chaters have published three thrillers, Kill Point, Blood Debt and Fortune’s Web. In addition, they have collaborated on a musical and produced four Kerry Charter solo CDs.

Kerry Chater is an alumnus of Leadership Music. He passed away on Feb. 4. No cause of death has been disclosed.

He is survived by his wife Lynn Gillespie Chater, by daughter Jesse Kirchhoff, by sons Kerry Jr. and Christopher and by four granddaughters. Funeral arrangements were handled by Heritage Funeral Home in Columbia, Tennessee.

Scotty Wray, Longtime Band Member For Miranda Lambert, Dies

Scotty Wray playing with Miranda Lambert

Longtime guitar player and songwriter Scotty Wray passed away on Friday (Feb. 18) after battling heart issues.

Wray was a member of country music superstar Miranda Lambert’s band, meeting the entertainer when she was 17 in Greenville, Texas. The pair spent more than two decades together performing on thousands of stages and writing countless songs.

“We wrote songs, played gig after gig, fought, cried, laughed & even got matching arrow tattoos after we made it out of some rough patches. He was one of the most talented guitar players I’ve ever known and I’m so thankful I got to witness his genius seasoned for over 20 years,” Lambert shared on social media. “He was the [one] I could count on. Always. No matter what. If he was there on my right side I felt like I could take on the world. Scotty Wray was family to me and I’ll never sing a note without him because I know he is there with me. He always has been. I love you my sweet Bud Wray.”

In addition to being a seasoned musician, Wray was also the older brother of country singer Collin Raye. The two began singing at a young age with their mother Lois Marie Chandler Wray, who was a local musician in De Queen, Arkansas, opening for the like of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins.

The brothers formed their own country rock band, The Wray Brothers Band, which signed with Mercury Records in 1986 and performed heavily in the Texas country circuit. They changed their name to The Wrays and recorded a string of singles, including “Reason to Believe” (1983), “Until We Meet Again” (1985), “I Don’t Want to Know Your Name” (1986), and “You Lay a Lotta Love on Me” (1987). The brothers disbanded shortly afterwards.

Wray went on to pen several songs for both Lambert and his brother, including the title track from Raye’s 2020 album, Scars, on which Lambert sings harmony.

Memorial arrangements for Wray have not yet been announced.

Celebration Of Life Set For Former Opryland Exec. Ed Stone

Ed Stone

A celebration of life will be held for former Opryland USA VP of Marketing & PR, Ed Stone, who passed away on Feb. 11 at the age of 81. Stone’s life and legacy will be honored at the Country Music Hall of Fame Ford Theater on March 25 at 1 p.m.

Stone, a native of Greensboro, Georgia, enjoyed an accomplished career in the travel and tourism industry. After graduating from the University of Georgia’s Journalism and Mass Communication School, his career began at Callaway Gardens where he met his wife, Fran. Their family moved to Nashville with Opryland USA in 1974 where he became VP of Marketing and Public Relations for the park, hotel and the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1990, Stone started his own communications company with regional and national accounts. During his career, he served in leadership roles with Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), SATW Foundation, Travel Industry Association of America (TIAA), Southeast Tourism Society (STS), International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), University of Georgia College of Mass Communications, and Sequoyah Birthplace Museum.

He was known for his love of golf, having played over 500 courses throughout the world.

Stone is the father of music industry executive Lori Badgett of City National Bank. He also leaves behind his wife of 53 years, Fran Grainger Stone, daughter Robyn Isaacs, and his four grandchildren: Stone and Dylan Isaacs, and Ellie and Anna Badgett. He is proceeded in death by his parents and five siblings.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Girls Give or Fairfield Glade United Methodist Church.

Publisher, Producer & Songwriter Blake Mevis Passes Away At 73

Producer and songwriter Blake Mevis passed away on Feb. 9 at the age of 73 following complications from COVID.

A native of Plymouth, Indiana, Mevis moved to Nashville in 1971 before landing a job with Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Music. He later worked for ABC and MCA Records and served as President of Pride Music Group, Charley Pride’s publishing company, during the 1980s.

Co-writers Blake Mevis (left) and Byron Hill (right) celebrate the 30th anniversary of George Strait’s “Fool Hearted Memory.” Photo: Courtesy of ASCAP

Mevis, who produced hit albums for George Strait and Keith Whitley, co-wrote Strait’s first No. 1 hit, “Fool Hearted Memory.” At one point in 1983, Mevis had four records in the Billboard country Top 20 that he had either written or produced. He was also responsible for pairing Strait with songwriter Dean Dillon who penned “Unwound,” which became Strait’s breakthrough hit.

Mevis’ other chart-topping songs include Pride’s 1983 “Night Games” and Joe Nichols’ “Brokenheartsville” in 2003. Mevis also had tracks recorded by the likes of Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, England Dan, John Ford Coley, Dave and Sugar, Charlie Rich, and Don Williams. He produced records for Pride, Vern Gosdin, The Kendalls, Clay Walker, and Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley.

Memorial arrangements have not yet been announced.

Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins, Country Music Hall Of Fame Pianist, Dies At 84

Hargus “Pig” Robbins. Photo: John Russell/CMA

Hargus “Pig” Robbins, a renowned pianist and Country Music Hall of Fame member who contributed to many country, rock, folk and pop hits since the late 1950s, died on Sunday (Jan. 30). He was 84.

Hargus Melvin Robbins was born on Jan. 18, 1938 in Rhea County, Tennessee. A tragic knife accident caused him to lose his sight at the age of three. He went on to study classical piano at the Tennessee School for the Blind at age seven.

While at school, Robbins developed his own unique style, influenced by pop and jazz pianists Floyd Cramer, Owen Bradley, Marvin Hughes, Ray Charles, and Poppa John Gordy. He developed the nickname “Pig” because he used to sneak in the school through a fire escape and play when he wasn’t supposed to, getting himself as dirty as a pig.

Hargus “Pig” Robbins. Photo: Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Robbins soon started playing in Nashville clubs and landed his first major studio gig in 1959, playing the lively piano on George Jones’ hit “White Lightning.” After that session, Robbins was steadily booked in the Nashville recording studios, finding himself among the Nashville A-Team of session players.

Robbins played on many iconic hits coming out of Nashville over the next few decades, including for Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, the Statler Brothers, and dozens of other country stars. Two memorable examples of Robbins’ playing can be heard on the intros of Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” (1974) and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” (1977).

Robbins contributed to Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, opening him up to more folk, pop and rock singers. He also appears on the liner notes for many of Dolly Parton’s albums, such as 1968’s Just Because I’m a Woman, 1971’s Coat of Many Colors, 1973’s My Tennessee Mountain Home, 1974’s Jolene, and more.

Robbins also recorded his own albums, including the Grammy-winning Country Instrumentalist of the Year (1977), Pig in a Poke (1978), and Unbreakable Hearts (1979). He garnered two CMA Awards throughout his career, winning CMA’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1976 and in 2000. Robbins was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012 alongside Garth Brooks and Connie Smith.

Following the announcement of his death, Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said “Like all successful session musicians, Pig Robbins was quick to adapt to any studio situation. He worked quickly, with perfection less a goal than a norm. And while he could shift styles on a dime to suit the singer and the song, his playing was always distinctive. Pig’s left hand on the piano joined with Bob Moore’s bass to create an unstoppable rhythmic force, while the fingers on his right hand flew like birds across the keys. The greatest musicians in Nashville turned to Pig for guidance and inspiration.”

Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, added “Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins was a defining sound for so much of the historic music out of Nashville. His talent spoke for itself through his decades-spanning career and work as a session pianist with countless artists across genres. Our hearts go out to his friends and family during this difficult time.”

Former CMA Leader Janice Wendell Dies

Janice Wendell

Nashville entertainment executive Janice Wendell, a 15-year member of the Country Music Association board, has died at age 79.

Wendell worked in television, in advertising and in marketing. She became a prominent community volunteer and philanthropist. In 2011, she was honored with a SOURCE award as an exceptional female music-business contributor.

She was born Janice Walker in East Tennessee in 1942 and spent her childhood in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Her family moved to Nashville in 1957. After graduating as class president from Donelson High, she attended Nashville Business College.

She began her professional career in 1964 with Showbiz, marketing syndicated television series such as The Porter Wagoner Show, Gospel Jubilee and The Beat!!! In 1969, she co-founded the advertising agency Creative House, Inc. This became Eric Ericson & Associates.

Pictured (L-R): Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Kyle Young, Bud Wendell, the late Janice Wendell, the late Frances Preston, and UMPG’s Troy Tomlinson at the 2011 SOURCE Awards. Photo: Alan Mayor

She married Ericson, and they built the firm into the largest privately held advertising and marketing firm in the Southeast. Clients included Third National Bank (later SunTrust), Martha White Foods, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the State of Tennessee and National Life & Accident Insurance Company with its Opryland USA theme park.

Ericson created the Opry jingle “Come Hear American Singing” and helped to popularize “Music City USA” as Nashville’s brand name. The firm was the training ground for dozens of Nashville advertising and marketing professionals.

The couple divorced, and she phased out her involvement with the agency in the early 1980s. Through her work with National Life, she met its executive E.W. “Bud” Wendell, whom she married in 1984. After Ericson’s death in 1987, she returned as chair and CEO of their agency. She sold it and retired from her advertising career in 1992.

Throughout their marriage, the Wendells took part in many charitable, civic and philanthropic interests. Janice Wendell joined the Country Music Association board in 1982 and remained there until 1996. She also served on the boards of The Nashville Symphony, the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation, The Tennessee Performing Arts Center, The Nashville Tourism Commission, Cheekwood, The Country Music Foundation and other worthy causes.

She was on the Symphony’s executive committee and chaired the Symphony Ball. She helped raise the funds that enabled the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to move from Music Row to downtown Nashville.

Janice Wendell received awards from United Way, Savvy magazine, the Nashville Advertising Federation and Advantage magazine, as well as SOURCE.

She passed away peacefully on Jan. 13, surrounded by family and friends. Janice Wendell is survived by her husband, E.W. “Bud” Wendell and children Eric Ericson Jr., Lindy Reece, Beth Cosgrove, Danny Wendell and Andrew Wendell. She is also survived by three sisters, a brother and 11 grandchildren.

Services will be held at First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, February 2 at 10 A.M. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, to Alive Hospice or to a charity of your choosing.

In observance of Wendell’s passing, CMA CEO Sarah Trahern commented: “I worked with Janice significantly in the mid to late 90s on TNN’s Evening of Country Greats television specials. Her passion and unwavering dedication to our artists, our industry and our history was displayed through everything she did, including her service on CMA’s Board of Directors. My heart goes out to Bud during this difficult time.”

Nashville Jazz Legend Beegie Adair Passes

Beegie Adair

Beegie Adair, a keystone of the Nashville jazz community, passed away on Sunday (Jan. 23) at age 84.

The pianist and vocalist was equally at home in a variety of musical settings. She recorded more than 35 albums, played on sessions for country and pop stars, composed ad jingles, headlined at Carnegie Hall and was a jazz educator.

Bobbe “Beegie” Long was raised in Cave City, Kentucky. After earning a music degree at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she worked as a piano teacher. Migrating to Nashville, she landed a gig with the Hank Garland Quartet. She then spent a decade in the house band at WSMV-TV’s The Waking Crew and Afternoon Show.

This led to her becoming an in-demand session musician, playing on recordings or broadcasts by Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Vince Gill, Henry Mancini, Delbert McClinton, Dinah Shore, Ronnie Milsap, Ray Stevens, Boots Randolph, Peggy Lee, Hank Snow, Perry Como, Eddy Arnold, Jerry Reed J.J. Cale, Connie Francis, Mandy Barnett, Waylon Jennings, Neil Diamond and more.

She was in the bands of the TV programs The Johnny Cash Show and The Ralph Emery Show. Beegie Adair also performed on the soundtracks of such films as Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Kevin Costner’s Perfect World (1993).

In the early 1970s, she performed in a 10-piece rock band called Sweet Thunder. This is where she met multi-instrumentalist Billy Adair (1947-2014), whom she married in 1975.

She and Billy formed a successful ad-jingle company. Among their clients were Purity Dairies, HCA, Allstate, United Airlines, Hamburger Helper, McDonald’s and Wrangler. A former touring musician, Billy Adair became the backbone of the jazz program at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music.

In 1982, Beegie Adair formed the Adair-Solee Quartet with saxophonist Denis Solee. This evolved into the Be-Bop Co-Op, a jazz sextet. She has also performed in The Nashville Jazz Machine, Orchestra Twelve, The Andrew Goodrich Quintet and The Jazz Corporation.

She is best known for her Beegie Adair Trio, which showcased her keyboard virtuosity backed by bass and percussion. The group debuted on disc with 1991’s Escape to New York with Bob Crenshaw (bass) and Greg Hutchinson (drums) as her partners.

The trio eventually solidified with Roger Spencer (bass) and Chris Brown (drums) as her rhythm section. Among the many recordings by this lineup of the Beggie Adair Trio were The Nat King Cole Collection (1998), Jazz Piano Christmas (1999), Dream Dancing: Songs of Cole Porter (2000), Love, Elvis (2000), Jazz on Broadway (2005), Sentimental Journey (2006) and Too Marvelous for Words (2015). The trio’s Frank Sinatra Collection won the 1998 Nashville Music Award as Jazz Album of the Year.

Her most ambitious work was the six-CD, boxed-set collection Centennial Composers. Released in 2002 on Nashville’s Green Hill label, its 75 songs were drawn from the catalogs of Great American Songbook composers George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.

Adair also hosted her own radio series, Improvised Thoughts. This was an NPR talk/music show of the early 1990s where she chatted and shared music with Tony Bennett, Marian McPartland, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Helen Merrill and others.

In 2002 Beegie Adair was honored by being named a Steinway Artist. This put her in the company of Harry Connick Jr., Billy Joel, Diana Krall, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Michel Legrand and Arthur Rubinstein. Her solo concerts at Steinway & Sons galleries throughout the U.S. attracted sell-out crowds.

Beginning in 2011, she began making annual appearances at the legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. Adair also showcased at other Manhattan jazz venues, often with vocalist Monica Ramey. During this time, several of Adair’s albums became best sellers on the national jazz-music charts. She was also a top seller in Japan.

On Oct. 7, 2016, The Beegie Adair Trio sold out Carnegie Hall. This was a first for a Nashville jazz act. She repeated the feat in 2017, and returned to the hallowed Hall for several years thereafter.

Adair was an adjunct professor of jazz at Vanderbilt. She taught vocal jazz at the Nashville Jazz Workshop for several years. The Trio had a residency there, and she was a board member emeritus.

Beegie Adair died at her home in Franklin. Her burial will be at Williamson Memorial Gardens. Contributions in her name can be made to The Nashville Jazz Workshop, to the Billy Adair Scholarship Fund at Vanderbilt (giving.vanderbilt.edu), to the Williamson County Animal Center or to the St. Joseph Indian School.

A Celebration of Life will be conduced at a later date.