Jo Walker-Meador, 93, Dies; Raised Country Music’s Profile

Jo Walker-Meador, 93, Dies; Raised Country Music’s Profile

Under her leadership, the association brought new visibility to country music and its stars. Through the Country Music Foundation, which she directed, Mrs. Walker-Meador raised the money to build the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in Nashville in 1967, and created the CMA Awards, which have been televised nationally since 1968.

In 1972, the association put on the first Fan Fair, an annual series of concerts and events across Nashville. Now known as CMA Fest, it attracts about 200,000 visitors to the city each year.

When Mrs. Walker-Meador stepped down as executive director in 1991, there were 2,400 country stations in the United States, and the association’s membership had grown to 7,000.

She was born Edith Josephine Denning on Feb. 16, 1924, in Orlinda, in north central Tennessee, one of 10 children of Joe Frank and Maude Denning. There was no radio on the family farm, and the only music she heard was in church.

After sorting nuts, bolt and screws in an aircraft plant during World War II, she attended Lambuth College in Jackson, Tenn., and George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, taking typing and shorthand classes at night.

After leaving school she worked for a mortgage broker and served as office manager for Crescent Entertainment, which owned 80 movie theaters.

In 1954 she married Charles Walker, who died in 1967. In 1981 she married Bob Meador, who died in 2015. She is survived by a daughter, Michelle Walker; a brother, Pete Denning; and two stepchildren, Rob and Karen Meador.

A job doing public relations for G. Edward Friar, Tennessee’s secretary of state, when he ran for governor in 1957 ended when he dropped out of the race.

The next year, Walter David Kilpatrick, known as D, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, asked her to become the first paid employee of the Country Music Association, formed by a group of industry executives to promote the music. “It seemed to me like a nothing job,” she told an audience at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2014. “But D convinced me. He was a pretty good salesman.”

It was fortunate that he did not quiz her about her musical knowledge. “I knew nothing about country music,” Mrs. Walker-Meador told the web publication Country Zone in 2011. “I had never been to the Grand Ole Opry. I’d heard of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and I’d heard of Hank Williams, but I didn’t delineate the different types of music.”

She learned, and after taking over in 1964 (after two years as interim director), she showed considerable skill in managing the association’s all-male board of directors and selling country music around the world.

“We had to scratch and claw for everything back in those days,” the country singer Bill Anderson was quoted in The Encyclopedia of Country Music. “Jo could scratch and claw without people knowing they had been scratched and clawed. She left a mark on this town and this business that will never be erased.”

In 1994, the association created the Jo Walker-Meador International Award to honor individuals or organizations promoting country music outside the United States. A year later, Mrs. Walker-Meador was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, whose building she had raised the money to construct.