Jo Walker-Meador, who rose through the ranks of the Country Music Association and became an impactful figure in the industry, died early Wednesday morning in Nashville after a stroke. She was 93.
Walker-Meador was the first full-time employee that the Country Music Association ever hired; her initial position there was as an office manager in the 1950s when country music was often scorned by rock ‘n’ rollers. Walker-Meador accepted the executive director position in 1962 after Minnie Pearl suggested that Walker-Meador take up the post, as she was already doing the work. By the time she retired in 1991 after 29 years as the organization’s executive director, country music had pervaded the mainstream.
Walker-Meador has been credited with helping to invigorate the genre: A survey conducted near the time of the CMA’s inception in the late ’50s found only 81 full-time country radio stations, but when Walker-Meador retired, there were more than 2,400. During her tenure as executive director, she oversaw the creation of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the CMA Awards and Fan Fair, which became CMA Fest, and she was especially adept at wrangling the CMA’s board of directors, which was mostly male and full of larger-than-life personalities.
In 1994, the Country Music Association established the Jo Walker-Meador Award in her honor, which recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual or organization in supporting country music outside of the U.S. She was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.
“Jo Walker-Meador looked at a mid-sized Southern town and envisioned something grander,” Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “She listened to music that was regional and knew that it could have worldwide impact. And then she quietly and gracefully ushered these things into being. She created grand scenes, then stood behind them. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum would not exist without her, and my life is one of millions that are better because of Jo Walker-Meador.”
“I am so very sorry to hear the news this morning of the passing of former CMA Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador,” he said. “I had the good fortune of meeting Jo and working with her and her staff from my early years at NARM in the late-1980s. In fact, Jo and NARM’s Mickey Granberg, along with BMI’s Frances Preston, were trailblazing female executives in the music business and great friends. So I had the chance to get to know her. NARM and CMA were actually formed in the same year…1958…and the two organizations have had a warm and collaborative relationship that continues to this day.”
“Jo hosted so many fabulous events at the annual NARM Convention, showcasing Country artists such as Roy Clark at our 1974 event, celebrating the genre’s successes and building relationships with the retail community to promote Country music,” the statement continued. “I also enjoyed seeing Jo at the CMA Fest and CMA Awards. She was always so gracious and never missed an opportunity to catch up with me. On behalf of the Music Business Association, I want to extend our deepest condolences to Jo’s family and friends and, of course, everyone at CMA.”