Longtime country music broadcaster and Country Music Hall of Famer Walter Ralph Emery died Saturday, January 15. He was 88.
According to his family's statement, Emery "passed away peacefully" at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville on Saturday morning.
Known for his relaxed hosting style and candid interviews with country music stars, Emery is widely credited with extending country music's reach during his 50-year career. In Nashville, Emery was known as a local morning show staple and member of the community.
Several of Emery's friends offered up their memories of him, including country star Loretta Lynn.
"Ralph and I go way back," she said in a tweet Saturday. "He was a Nashville original and you cannot underestimate the role he played in the growth and success of country music. He made you feel at ease and interviewed everyone just like an old friend."
"Ralph Emery's impact in expanding country music's audience is incalculable," Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement Saturday. "On radio and on television, he allowed fans to get to know the people behind the songs."
"Ralph was more a grand conversationalist than a calculated interviewer, and it was his conversations that revealed the humor and humanity of Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins and many more. Above all, he believed in music and in the people who make it."
Born in McEwen, Tennessee in 1933, Emery was naturally passionate about radio growing up. Eventually becoming known as the "dean of country music broadcasters," Emery began his career at WTPR in Paris, Tennessee. He would later take over the graveyard shift at Nashville's WSM in 1957.
Over the next 15 years, Emery brought music and interviews with country's biggest names and newest talent to WSM's airwaves, featuring artists like Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, and Marty Robbins.
In 1961, Emery also served as the voice to WSM's "Grand Ole Opry" - one of his favorite radio shows as a child. He would continue in the role until 1964. Emery dipped his toes in making music as well, recording "Hello Fool" (a response to Faron Young's "Hello Walls") and reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
In addition to radio, Emery hosted television shows and authored several books. His first local television show, Opry Almanac on WSM-TV, would kick off a decades-long television presence, leading him to be the face of The Nashville Network (TNN). His best-known TV program became Nashville Now, which he hosted from 1983 to 1993.
Emery returned to the airwaves in 2015 at age 82 to recreate an episode of Nashville Now with his former show guests Con Hunley, Ray Stevens, Lorrie Morgan, Barbara Mandrell, and Steve Hall (know for his "Shotgun Red" puppet). His accomplishments include being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame.
Emery is quoted saying his goal was to "bring respect to country music" in his Country Music Hall of Fame biography. "I'll be very content if people can look on me and say, 'He brought dignity to his craft,' or, 'He brought class to the business.'"
Emery is survived by his wife, Joy Emery, his three sons, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
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