Country music lost some giants this past year, among them two members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, writers of classic hits, behind-the-scenes movers and shakers and a legendary producer who broadened country music’s appeal enormously by persuading the day’s top pop singers to record it.
Solomon Burke, 70, soul music dynamo who frequently acknowledged his country music influences and who in 2006 recorded the country-flavored album Nashville, Oct. 10 in Amsterdam.
Robert Byrd, 92, U.S. Senator from West Virginia and noted fiddle player, June 28 in Fairfax, Va. He recorded the album U.S. Senator Robert Byrd Mountain Fiddler in 1978 and followed it with appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw.
Fred Carter Jr., 76, Nashville session guitarist who played on such hits as Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” June 17 in Nashville. He was the father of country artist Deana Carter.
Hank Cochran, 74, songwriter whose classics include “Make the World Go Away,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” and “She’s Got You,” July 15 in Hendersonville, Tenn.
Jimmy Dean, 81, pioneering country music television star, recently inducted member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and writer and singer of the 1961 crossover hit “Big Bad John,” June 13 in Varina, Va.
Kenny Edwards, 64, founding member of the Stone Poneys, influential figure in Linda Ronstadt’s career and contributor to country projects with Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, David Lee Murphy and John Cowan, Aug. 18 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was also a member of the folk group Bryndle.
Bobby Charles (real name Robert Charles Guidry), 71, writer of “See You Later, Alligator” and “Walking to New Orleans,” Jan. 14 in Abbeville, La. He performed at The Band’s 1976 farewell concert filmed for the concert documentary, The Last Waltz.
Linda Hargrove, 61, recording artist and writer of the hits “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Let It Shine,” “I’ve Never Loved Anyone More” and “Just Get Up and Close the Door,” Oct. 24 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Dale Hawkins, 73, rockabilly pioneer and writer of the rock classic “Susie Q,” Feb. 13 in Little Rock.
Bobby Hebb, 72, singer-songwriter best known for his 1966 hit, “Sunny,” Aug. 3 in Nashville. He performed with Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys during the 1950s and thus became one of the few African Americans to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. He opened for the Beatles on their final U.S. tour.
Johnnie High, 80, music impresario and founder of Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue, March 17 near Fort Worth. Established in Grapevine, Texas, in 1974 the live Saturday night show nourished such budding talents as LeAnn Rimes, Lee Ann Womack, Gary Morris and Steve Holy.
Nick Hunter, 67, former Audium Records (later Koch Records) chief, longtime record promoter and a driving force in the careers of Johnny Paycheck, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr. and many others, Dec. 14 in Nashville.
Ben Keith, 73, musician, producer and longtime sideman to Neil Young, July 26 in Northern California.
Kate McGarrigle, 63, renowned singer-songwriter, whose songs were recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, among many others, Jan. 18 in Montreal. In addition to performing and recording with her sister Anna, she was the former wife of folksinger, songwriter and actor Loudon Wainwright III and mother of singer-songwriters Rufus and Martha Wainwright.
Mitch Miller, 99, legendary producer and originator of the wildly popular Sing Along With Mitch album and TV series in the 1960s, July 31 in New York City. His ear for music led him to pair successfully many of Hank Williams’ country hits with pop artists, including “Hey, Good Lookin'” for the duo of Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford, “Cold, Cold Heart” for Tony Bennett, “Half as Much” for Rosemary Clooney and “Jambalaya” for Stafford.
Shirley Collie Nelson, 78, Willie Nelson’s second wife and singer of three hit country singles in the early 1960s (“Dime a Dozen,” “Why, Baby, Why,” “Willingly”), Jan. 27 in Missouri. Prior to marrying Nelson, she was married to disc jockey Biff Collie.
Bill Phillips, 74, singer and recording artist who showcased the songwriting talent of young Dolly Parton in 1966 via his recording of her “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” Aug. 23 in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. From 1969 to 1984, he toured with the Kitty Wells-Johnny Wright Show.
Bill Porter, 79, the sound engineer whose credits include Elvis Presley’s early RCA sessions and a role in helping create the lush Nashville Sound via his work as producer Chet Atkins’ chief engineer, July 7 in Ogden, Utah. His engineering credits included the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” the Brown’s “The Three Bells,” Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” and “Only the Lonely” and Presley’s “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Surrender,” “Good Luck Charm” and “Suspicious Minds.”
George Richey, 74, widower and last manager of Tammy Wynette, July 31. He also co-wrote her hits “Til I Can Make It On My Own” and “You And Me,” as well as George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You)” and several other chart tunes. Place of death not known.
Carl Smith, 82, one of the most popular country singers of the 1950s and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Jan. 16 in Franklin, Tenn. His first marriage was to singer-comedienne June Carter, a union that produced singer Carlene Carter, and his second and final one to singer Goldie Hill. Smith’s biggest hits were “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way,” “(When You Feel Like You’re in Love) Don’t Just Stand There,” “Are You Teasing Me,” “Hey Joe!” and “Loose Talk.”
Terrell Tye, 58, former partner in Forerunner Music and former wife of recording artist and Grand Ole Opry member Hal Ketchum, Dec. 25 in Nashville.
George David Weiss, 89, songwriter whose enduring hits include “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Lullaby of Birdland,” Aug. 23 in Oldwick, N. J. In his role as president of the Songwriters Guild of America, he was a frequent visitor to Nashville during the 1980s and ’90s.
Larry Jon Wilson, 69, songwriter and recording artist, June 21 in Roanoke, Va. He recorded four albums for Monument Records in the late 1970s but had only one charted single, “Think I Feel a Hitchhike Coming On,” in 1976.