Jo Walker-Meador, who built the Country Music Association from a tiny, ragged startup into one of the nation’s most visible and successful trade organizations, died Wednesday (Aug. 16) in Nashville at the age of 93.
Under her leadership, which extended from 1959 until her retirement in 1991, the CMA established the Country Music Hall of Fame, the annual Country Music Awards show, Fan Fair (now evolved into the CMA Music Festival) and the Talent Buyers Seminar that brought together artists and promoters.
Born Edith Josephine Denning in Orlinda, Tennessee, on Feb. 16, 1924, Walker-Meador grew up on a tobacco farm. During World War II, she worked as a secretary at an aircraft company in Nashville. She subsequently attended Lambuth College and Peabody College before moving on to the job of executive secretary for an amusement company.
In 1954, she married radio executive Charles Walker. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1967. She did not remarry until 1981, when she wed Nashville businessman Robert Meador, who preceded her in death in 2015.
When Walker-Meador came to the Country Music Association in 1958, initially as its office manager, the fledgling trade group had only 200 members and a bank account of $2,000. Its aim was to elevate country music from a marginally and negatively stereotyped format into the entertainment mainstream. In that, it succeeded well beyond its initial ambitions, even establishing a London office in 1983.
Elegant, soft-spoken and congenial, Walker-Meador proved the ideal person to negotiate the thorny politics among the competing record labels, music publishers, radio stations, performance rights organizations and talent buyers who made up its membership.
The CMA Awards show has long-since become one of the top television specials of the year, and the CMA Music Festival now draws hundreds of thousands of fans to Nashville and contributes millions of dollars to local causes.
Walker-Meador was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.
Funeral and memorial services have yet to be announced.