The passing of former Country Music Association executive director Jo Walker-Meador Wednesday at 93 brought forth many glowing remembrances from Nashville’s country music community, which she had served with great distinction for decades.
As her fellow Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and dear friend Bill Anderson told Nashville’s Tennessean, “When you thought of the CMA, you thought of Jo Walker. I never knew anybody in any business as devoted to her job, her cause and her people like she was.”
Characterizing her as “one of the sweetest people” he’d ever known and a staunch promoter of country music and its musicians, Anderson added: “We had to scratch and claw for everything back in those days. 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.”
The CMA had hired Jo Walker-Meador as its first full-time employee back in the 1950s. She was its office manager then, and when she retired in 1991, had served as its executive director for 29 years, having helped during her tenure to lift country music from its hillbilly roots and regional following to an international phenomenon on par with any other form of popular music.
“Jo was a champion for country music around the world and a groundbreaker for women in the entertainment business,” said CMA chief executive officer Sarah Trahern in a statement.
“On a personal note, I will miss her guidance, humor, and friendship. She was the first meeting I set up before I took this job [and] taught me lessons in how to gracefully navigate the board. She was always diplomatic in her storytelling and she had some great ones to share.”
According to Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young, Walker-Meador “looked at a mid-sized Southern town and envisioned something grander. 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.”
Other country music legends likewise offered ultimate praise.
“I was so sorry to hear about Jo’s passing,” said Dolly Parton. “She was an angel here and she’ll be angel there. She will always be loved and missed.”
Brenda Lee, who like Parton is a Country Music Hall of Famer (also a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer), noted that while Walker-Meador’s dream was to coach basketball, “she wound up coaching country music all over the world.”
“She adored the people in country music--the fans, the artists, the singers, all the inner-workings,” Lee said. “She adored it. And that’s what we all loved about her. She loved us. It wasn’t just a job to her. She cared. She was a wonderful, kind, sweet person that absolutely gave all. The people meant more to her than the bright lights and city folks. She got the word out, not that it wasn’t before, but it went to a different level with Miss Jo.”
Robert Deaton, executive producer for CMA Fest, the CMA Awards show and CMA Country Christmas, recalled the experience of working with Walker-Meador, and especially her commitment to country music’s history.
“I always felt like my day was better just by being with Jo,” he said. “When working on one of our shows, she would always leave me with a piece of advice. She would take me by the hand and whisper a legend’s name in my ear as a reminder to not forget where we came from. She was all about love. The love of country music, our artists, and the love of our community. We should all honor the legacy of Jo Walker-Meador.”
Indeed, longtime Music Row observer David M. Ross, now owner of BossRoss Media and a CMA board member, her in rare company.
“Jo Walker Meador now joins the ranks of spirited and passionate [Nashville country music community] female leaders such as Frances Preston, Donna Hilley, Maggie Cavender and others who have left everlasting marks on the growth and success of country music. Her humor, grace and tireless efforts on behalf of country music will be greatly missed.”