During the 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy Ray Dean’s homespun charm, good looks, and upbeat manner won new audiences for country music through the emerging medium of television. Born August 10, 1928, into a struggling rural family in Olton, Texas, he honed his performing skills in the late 1940s by entertaining his fellow servicemen at Bolling Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. After his discharge in 1948 he assembled his band, the Texas Wildcats, and worked Washington area clubs, fire halls, and lodges. “We played every dive in Washington at one time or another,” Dean recalled. “And dives is what they were.” Soon he was broadcasting on live radio shows organized by country music entrepreneur Connie B. Gay and aired over radio station WARL. Popular locally and in syndication, Gay’s Town and Country Time helped Dean build his audience.
During his lengthy career, Ferlin Eugene Husky established a reputation as one of country music’s finest entertainers. He was born in Cantwell, Missouri, on December 3, 1925, and grew up on a farm. He was named Ferland after one of his father’s friends, but his birth certificate nevertheless read “Ferlin,” and the spelling stuck. An uncle taught him guitar before age ten; tuning the family radio to KMOX-St. Louis, he heard smooth-singing favorites Red Foley, Gene Autry, and Bing Crosby. Husky met a veteran of the Merchant Marines while working in St. Louis in the early 1940s, and after Pearl Harbor, he rushed to enlist. On D-Day he served as a volunteer gunner on a troop ship off the beach at Cherbourg, France.
One of country’s most influential producers, Billy Sherrill helped to shape the music’s evolution in the 1970s and beyond. He is also a highly successful songwriter, elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. Producers including Decca’s Owen Bradley-whom Sherrill greatly admired-had already introduced strings and background vocals to country records, but Sherrill took the process noticeably further with lush, layered productions. Although purists criticized Sherrill’s efforts, the independent-minded producer let strong record sales speak for themselves. To a large degree, Sherrill’s genius lay in applying this approach to a wide range of singers, including those who were unmistakably country. Billy Sherrill produced an extensive list of recordings for: Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Janie Frickie, Marty Robbins and Joe Stampley. Sheryl was the producer for: Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl”, Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job And Shove It” and Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” and what some consider the best song ever recorded, George Jone’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Known as country music’s “Gentle Giant” for his warm baritone and laid-back ways, Don Williams was a major country hitmaker and international ambassador. Scoring at least one major hit every year between 1974 and 1991, he had an impressive fifty-six chart records. Fifty of these reached the country Top Twenty, and forty-five made the Top Ten; seventeen went to #1. In 1978 he was CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, and his recording of “Tulsa Time” was ACM Single of the Year. In 1980, readers of London’s Country Music People magazine named him Artist of the Decade.