Loudilla Maxine Johnson, one of the three sisters who systematized the operation of country music fan clubs and pioneered the event that eventually led to the CMA Music Festival, died Wednesday (May 7) in Franklin, Tenn., at age 75.
Working with her younger sisters Loretta (who died in 2009) and Kay from the family ranch in Wild Horse, Colo., Loudilla Johnson initially became important in the country music industry by founding the Loretta Lynn Fan Club in 1963, well before Lynn emerged as a star.
The club's effectiveness in raising Lynn's profile caught the attention of fans of other artists who asked Lynn how they might start and operate their own groups. After the singer suggested the formation of an organization to deal with the other fan clubs, the Johnson Sisters launched the International Fan Club Organization in 1967.
By 1998, IFCO was advising and setting standards of operation for more than 375 clubs, ranging from appreciation societies for superstars to fledgling support groups for obscure acts.
In 1968, the organization held its first fan-oriented show and dinner as a part of the annual Disc Jockey Convention in Nashville. From this modest start sprang Fan Fair, which debuted in 1972 under the co-sponsorship of the Country Music Association and the Grand Ole Opry.
The days-long event, first held at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium and then at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, gave fans the chance to meet their country idols and see them perform.
Fan Fair moved to various sites in downtown Nashville in 2001 and was renamed the CMA Music Festival in 2004.
Starting in 1995, IFCO staged a series of country music shows at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium to unofficially kick off each year's edition of Fan Fair. Eventually labeled IFCO "Fun Fest," these shows continued through 2010.
Proceeds from the shows were earmarked for various charities, ranging from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to Second Harvest Food Bank.
The "Fun Fest" concert was not staged in 2009, owing to Loretta Johnson's death that year.
IFCO has continued to promote country music on its website both nationally and internationally.