2008 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee: The Statler Brothers

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Statler Brothers achieved a familial sound well-suited for their
catalog of songs reflecting everyday life and family values, even though
only two of its members were true siblings.

As teenagers, baritone vocalist Phil Balsley (born Aug. 8, 1939), tenor
vocalist Lew DeWitt (born Mar. 8, 1938) and bass vocalist Harold Reid (born
Aug. 21, 1939) formed a church group in their hometown of Staunton, Va. in
1955. Don Reid (born June 5, 1945), Harold's younger brother, joined the
group as lead singer in 1960 and they christened themselves the Kingsmen.
The group began singing Country Music with their tight, gospel harmonies
and built a following in the region. Because another group called the
Kingsmen were popular around that time, the quartet changed its name to the
Statler Brothers after a box of Statler tissues.

In August 1963 the group performed at an event headlined by Johnny
Cash. Early the next year, Cash decided to add a male harmony vocal group
to his touring ensemble and the Statler Brothers were invited to audition
on March 9 in Canton, Ohio. Cash then asked them to perform with him that
night and worked up several numbers with the group. The initial performance
went well, so Cash invited them to join the tour and they remained with him
through 1972, working all of his television shows, concert dates and
recording sessions. Years later, Marshall Grant of the Tennessee Three
would become the Statler Brothers' representative.

Signed to Cash's label home Columbia Records, the Statler Brothers had
their first hit in 1965 with the DeWitt-penned hit that would become their
signature smash, "Flowers on the Wall." Their performance of this song
earned the quartet a Grammy Award in the all-genre category for Best
Contemporary Performance - Group (Vocal or Instrumental), even beating The
Beatles. They also won a second Grammy Award that same year for Best New
Country & Western Group.

The quartet moved to Mercury Records in 1969, where they remained for
more than two decades. Their first single for their new label home was
1970's "Bed of Rose's" written by Harold Reid, which became a Top 5 hit.
This song was the first success in a long relationship between the Statler
Brothers and their new producer, Mercury VP Jerry Kennedy. Kennedy would
continue to produce the group throughout their career, even after he left
Mercury Records to form his own production company.

In 1970, the Statler Brothers also created one of their most loved
events with their annual Happy Birthday U.S.A. Fourth of July concert,
parade and community celebration. The event, held in their hometown of
Staunton until it ended in 1995, was a top tourism draw for the area and
always featured one of Country Music's top artists as a special guest
performer. All proceeds from the event were given to local charitable

The early '70s was a successful time for the Statler Brothers as they
hit the Top 40 repeatedly with songs such as "Carry Me Back," "Do You
Remember These," and "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?," all written by
Harold and Don Reid. Their hit "The Class of '57," another Reid brothers
composition, which author Kurt Vonnegut once suggested should be considered
as a new National Anthem, earned the group their third Grammy Award in 1972
as Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

The group challenged itself by creating several concept albums. The
Statler Brothers Sing Country Symphonies in E Major, released in 1972, was
structured like an orchestral performance complete with an "intermission."
In 1974, they released the tongue-in-cheek Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown
High School under their comic alias of Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the
Cadillac Cowboys. And in 1975, they simultaneously released Holy Bible/Old
Testament and Holy Bible/New Testament, fulfilling a long-time dream of
recording a project celebrating their Christian beliefs.

The Best of the Statler Brothers was released in 1975, featuring their
Top Five hit, the Don Reid-penned "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You." The
quartet continued their streak during the next few years with Top 10 hits
"The Movies" (written by DeWitt) and "I Was There" (written by Don Reid),
before achieving their first No. 1 single with "Do You Know You Are My
Sunshine" (written by the Reid brothers) from their 1978 album Entertainers
... On & Off the Record.

The Statler Brothers celebrated 10 years with Mercury Records in 1980
with the release of 10th Anniversary. The album featured their hits
"Charlotte's Web" (their song from the film "Smokey and the Bandit II," in
which they also appeared), "Don't Forget Yourself" (written by Don Reid)
and the autobiographical "We Got Paid By Cash" (written by the Reid
brothers) that celebrated their history as well as their musical mentor.

By the early '80s, DeWitt, who had suffered with Crohn's Disease since
his youth, was in failing health. Jimmy Fortune (born March 11, 1955 in
Williamsburg, Va.) was asked to temporarily replace him on the road in late
January 1982. DeWitt's health never improved enough for him to return to
touring on a fulltime basis, so he departed the band with Fortune assuming
his position fulltime in August of that year. After a few years out of the
limelight, DeWitt released two solo albums, On My Own (1985) and Here to
Stay (1986). While working on a third album, he passed away due to heart
and kidney failure on Aug. 15, 1990 at the age of 52.

Fortune quickly lived up to his name. He wrote the group's second No. 1
hit "Elizabeth," on their 1983 album Today, and then followed that with two
more No. 1 hits: "My Only Love" (from 1984's Atlanta Blue) and "Too Much On
My Heart" (from 1985's Pardners in Rhyme). Fortune also wrote their Top 10
hit "Forever" from 1986's Four for the Show and co-wrote their last major
hit, the No. 6 charting "More Than a Name on the Wall" from 1988's The
Greatest Hits.

As the group continued to tour and record albums, they decided to
expand their reach into television. The Statler Brothers were no stranger
to the medium, having been regulars on ABC's "The Johnny Cash Show" from
1969-1971. During the '80s they had also hosted a string of successful,
award-winning syndicated television specials including "An Evening with the
Statler Brothers," "Another Evening with the Statler Brothers: Heroes,
Legends and Friends" and "A Statlers Christmas Present." With that
experience behind them, "The Statler Brothers Show" launched on TNN in 1991
as a weekly, hour-long variety series. It quickly became the most popular
show on the network and ran for seven years, reconnecting them with
longtime followers while building a new generation of fans. "The Statler
Brothers Show" was a popular booking for the biggest Country artists of the
day as well as legends.

In 2002, the Statler Brothers announced their retirement from the road
and gave their farewell concert at the 10,000-seat Salem Civic Center in
Salem, Va., not far from Staunton. One year later they released the concert
on CD and DVD, as well as a new gospel album, Amen. The group then settled
back to enjoy their well-earned retirement.

The RIAA has certified the Statler Brothers with 10 Gold albums
(Atlanta Blue, Entertainers...On & Off The Record, Radio Gospel Favorites,
Holy Bible/New Testament, Holy Bible/Old Testament, Pardners in Rhyme, 10th
Anniversary, The Best of the Statler Brothers Rides Again Vol. 2, The
Originals, and Today) signifying 500,000 sales each; one Platinum album
(Christmas Card) signifying one million sales; and one triple Platinum
album (The Best of the Statler Brothers) signifying three million sales.

For more than 40 years, the Statler Brothers were among the most
honored acts in Country Music. Among their awards are: nine CMA Awards for
Vocal Group of the Year (1972-1977, 1979, 1980, 1984); three Grammy Awards
(1965 Best New Country and Western Group, 1965 Best Contemporary
Performance by a Group and 1972 Best Country Performance by a Duo or
Group); three American Music Awards for Country Group of the Year
(1979-1981); and 48 Music City News Awards, including 26 Vocal Group of the
Year Awards (1971-1982, 1984-1994, 1996, 1997) and 3 Entertainer of the
Year Awards (1985-1987). In 1994, a monument was presented to the Statler
Brothers and installed in Gypsy Hill Park in appreciation by the Happy
Birthday U.S.A. Committee and the City of Staunton. The group was inducted
into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

The three surviving original Statler Brothers currently live in
Staunton with their families. Balsley still goes to the Statler offices
every day, remaining involved in the group's day-to-day operations. Don
Reid has written a number of books: Heroes and Outlaws of the Bible, Sunday
Morning Memories, and a book with his two sons Debo and Langdon, You Know
It's Christmas When.... He and his brother Harold have collaborated on the
group's memoir, The Statler Brothers: Random Memories, which will be
released Feb. 19. The Reid family musical legacy has continued as Don's son
Langdon and Harold's son Wil formed the Country Music duo Grandstaff.
Meanwhile, Fortune moved to Nashville and released several solo albums,
including When One Door Closes (2003), I Believe (2005), and Feels Like
Christmas (2006). And while only two of the group are siblings, all of its
members remain as close as brothers.