Gordon Stoker, tenor singer for Country Music Hall of Fame vocal group the Jordanaires, died Wednesday morning, March 27, 2013, at Alive Hospice in Nashville. He was 88.
The Jordanaires’ harmonies can be heard on some of the most famous recordings from the 1960s and early ‘70s, particularly the Elvis Presley classics “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “It’s Now or Never.” Stoker had worked with Presley beginning in 1956, on the star’s first sessions for RCA Victor.
During the 1960s and beyond the Jordanaires helped create the Nashville Sound on recordings by Ferlin Husky (“Gone,” widely regarded as the first hit recording to embody the Nashville Sound), Jim Reeves (“Four Walls”), and Patsy Cline (“Crazy”). The also group contributed to Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me,” Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin’,” Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” as well as tracks by rock & rollers Ricky Nelson and Gene Vincent.
The quartet’s members evolved throughout the years, but the line up elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001 is made up of tenor Stoker, second tenor Neal Matthews Jr., baritone Hoyt Hawkins, and Ray Walker. These men anchored the group for two decades. The Jordanaires were also elected to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Born August 3, 1924, Stoker was a native of Gleason, Tenn., where he grew up in a musical family. By age eight he was playing piano in church, and then performing at singing conventions. After high school graduation at age 15, he moved to Nashville to join the Daniel Quartet, which performed on radio station WSM. His served in the Air Force and attended Oklahoma Baptist University before returning to Nashville and the Daniel Quartet.
First organized in the late 1940s, Stoker joined the Jordanaires in 1949, when the group was backing Grand Ole Opry headliner Red Foley. By 1950 the Jordanaires were becoming noted for their spirited renditions of songs associated with both the black and white gospel traditions. They continued to mine this musical vein after signing with Capitol in 1951. In addition, the group had begun singing background on records by country hitmakers such as Foley (“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”). Their regular spots on the NBC network portion of the Grand Ole Opry and on 1955′s Eddy Arnold Time, a popular syndicated TV show of the day, brought the famed quartet into households across the nation.
The Jordanaires’ contributions to the Nashville recording industry include Neal Matthews Jr. popularizing the Nashville Number System. Advocates for broadcasting and film performers, the Jordanaires were also instrumental in establishing the Nashville offices of national performers’ unions representing radio and television artists and screen actors.
In 2002, in conjunction with Larry Ford & the Light Crust Doughboys, they won a Grammy in the category of Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Album, for We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album. Frequent headliners in Las Vegas, they made personal appearances worldwide, carrying country music around the globe.
Stoker is survived by wife Jean Stoker, sons Alan and Brent, daughter Venita, daughter-in-law Jeanne, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Visitation will be held from 6 – 8 p.m. Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29, at Woodlawn-Roesch-Pattton Funeral Home, 660 Thompson Lane in Nashville. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 30, at 2 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church, 2323 Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville. A one-hour visitation will also be held prior to the memorial service.
Read more about Gordon Stoker from the Country Music Hall of Fame.
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