Sign up for newsletter
 

Former CMA head Walker-Meador passes

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 – Former Country Music Association Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador died Tuesday night in Nashville following a stroke. She was 93.

"Jo was a champion for country music around the world and a groundbreaker for women in the entertainment business," said 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."

Under her leadership, CMA played a key role in expanding worldwide awareness of country. The Country Music Hall of Fame (created in 1961), the CMA Awards (created in 1967 and televised nationally since 1968), the CMA Music Festival (launched as Fan Fair in 1972) and many other initiatives were conceived and launched on her watch. "No one was researching the demographics of country music listeners until Jo pushed it forward," said Don Nelson, CMA board chair in 1978. "That was a huge help in getting people to realize that listeners to country music cut a broad slice across the station. My station in Indianapolis was the first in country to pick up a buy from Cadillac. When I had that order in my hand, the first person I called was Jo. And within 24 hours, I think every country broadcaster in America knew it - and there were no emails in those days! It was just Jo on the phone."

Her reach extended eventually into international markets too. "Jo was always looking three to five years down the road," Nelson said. "At the birth of CMA, if you thought Country, you thought of Nashville. You certainly didn't think of all the places where the format has since become a success. That didn't just happen by itself. It happened because Jo was pushing for it from Day One."

Born Edith Josephine Denning, the future Jo Walker-Meador was one of 10 children raised on a farm near Orlinda, Tenn. She dreamed of becoming a high school English teacher and girls' basketball coach, but after studying at Lambuth College in Jackson, Tenn., for two years, she transferred to the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. She paid her way through school by working as a secretary while also taking night classes in typing and shorthand.

After more than four years as Executive Secretary, doing public relations for a gubernatorial candidate, she accepted an offer to become office manager - and the first paid employee - at the fledgling Country Music Association. "I knew nothing about country music," she later admitted in an interview with CountryZone.net. "I knew that Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff were members of the Grand Ole Opry - but I had never been to the Grand Ole Opry."

With the resignation of CMA's founding Executive Director Harry Stone in 1962, she was promoted to take his place. Initially a staff of one, she did whatever had to be done to pursue the best interests of the Association and Country Music. Yet even trivial activities were crucial to empowering her ability to advance the format.

"She is known all over the world," said Tom Collins, CMA Board Chairman in 1979 and 1980. "We've traveled with her in Europe, and people I never even heard of would want to come up and see her. This is why the CMA Jo Walker-Meador International Award is named after her."

The Country Music Hall of Fame, whose existence owes much to Walker-Meador's vision, welcomed her into its pantheon in 1995.

She is survived by her brother Pete Denning, daughter Michelle Walker, and step-children Rob and Karen Meador.

More news for Country Music Association

Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: There's a lot to be said about The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers have soldiered on, occupying the fringes of the musical world with ups and downs. After not knowing whether the group would even continue following the departure of half of the band a few years ago, The Felice Brothers continued with a new rhythm section and a new album, "Undressed," that is heavily political.... »»»
Concert Review: Turner bring it on (to his second) home – Frank Turner opined during the first of four sold-out nights of the Lost Evenings Festival that Boston was his home away from his British home. The likable, accessible singer hit the sweet spot not only with his perspective, but his performance as well demonstrated why. Turner made a major change in this year's festival. For the first time, he... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Watson gets "Lucky" Dale (The Real Deal) Watson has been releasing hard country albums since 1995 and shows no signs of slowing down on his most recent release, "Call Me Lucky." This record marks his third effort recorded in Memphis, at Sam Phillips Recording Studio, with Watson's regular touring band, The Lone Stars.... »»»
The Long Ryders return to action The Long Ryders have come a long way since they were initially associated with other Los Angeles relatively retro acts collected under the Paisley Underground umbrella. Even back during the mid to late '80s,... »»»
Front Porch CD review - Front Porch
Joy Williams' "Front Porch" album is a beautiful collection of acoustic, country-folk music. The title cut, for instance, includes sweet fiddling, while the rest of the album takes an appreciated low-key approach to its instrumentation. »»»
Hellbent CD review - Hellbent
Randy Rogers makes a big, bold statement with his title track, but it's the smaller insightful moment expressed through "Wine In A Coffee Cup" that stands out most. Rogers sings it empathetically over a swaying groove... »»»
When You're Ready CD review - When You're Ready
One of the most celebrated acoustic guitarists working within the Americana field, Molly Tuttle is two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitarist of the Year, the first female to be so honored. »»»
Stronger Than the Truth CD review - Stronger Than the Truth
The beauty of Reba McEntire's albums flows from her way with a phrase, knowing when to modulate to carry us deeper into sadness or joy and when to pull back when she wants us to listen quietly to the lessons of a tear falling. »»»
Reboot CD review - Reboot
Brooks and Dunn return with the duo's first studio album in a dozen years. Sort of. That's because they revisit a dozen of their hits (leaving a bunch behind) with contemporary country singers. »»»
GUY CD review - GUY
A decade after recording his tribute to Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle has released an album of Guy Clark covers. It includes, perhaps, Clark's best-known songs, "L.A. Freeway" and "Desperados Waiting For A Train," as well as a  »»»