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: Combs, Gill, Harris, Crow comprise one final musical platter
Vince Gill played host to an entertaining guitar pull, a show which also featured his longtime friend, Emmylou Harris, slightly newer friend Sheryl Crow and brand-new friend Luke Combs.
Gill joked from the outset that this All for the Hall fundraising show needed Combs to sell tickets, and by the audience's response, it was clear many came only to see Combs.... »»»
Concert Review: Stapleton shows his traditional roots
Chris Stapleton's All-American Road show feels like a singular mission to rid the genre of the bro country scourge that has plagued it for years. He came out with a blazing one-two punch of "Second One To Know" and "Without Your Love" and packed a stadium sized onslaught into a 9,000-seat arena. He never once veered from his... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time
Elsewhere in the news
Currently at the CST blogs
Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
With "Threads," Sheryl Crow gets the all-star-guest treatment on what she says is her swang song, with each song featuring a favorite fellow artist. She seems a little too young for this kind of tribute. Nevertheless, »»»
Let it Roll
Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador »»»
While I'm Livin'
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own »»»
Eilen Jewell's "Gypsy" opens with the ominous, mysterious "Beat the Drum," which is a swampy - and yes, gypsy - song of warning about some impending doom or other. It plays out like a softer type of vintage... »»»
Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully. »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»