Walter Ralph Emery, Country Music Hall of Famer and host of the TNN primetime talk show “Nashville Now,” died Saturday at the age of 88.
Emery “passed away peacefully” surrounded by his family Saturday morning at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, his family wrote in a statement.
“Ralph had a deep love for his family, his friends and his fans,” According to Emery’s family,
The broadcaster was well-known for his casual, relaxed hosting style as well as candid interviews with country music artists. His 50-year career in broadcasting has been widely recognized for his contribution to country music’s popularity.
“Ralph and I go way back,” Loretta Lynn posted the following tweet on 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.”
Emery was a Nashville morning show host and a respected member of the community.
“Ralph Emery’s impact in expanding country music’s audience is incalculable,” Kyle Young, the CEO of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum said this in a statement on 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. He believed in music and the people who create it.
The industry was very impressed by Emery’s talents and personality. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, heralded as “the most famous TV and radio personality in country music.” He was also inducted in the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame, 1989.
Emery was born in McEwen, Tennessee in 1933 and grew up with a deep love for radio, which served as a sanctuary during his rocky childhood.
He worked as an usher in a downtown Nashville movie theater and as a Kroger stock boy as a teen, saving money to attend the Tennessee School of Broadcasting under the instruction of Nashville radio legend John Richbourg.
Known as the “dean of country music broadcasters,” Emery began his career at WTPR in Paris, Tennessee, eventually taking over the graveyard shift at Nashville’s WSM in 1957 when he was 24 years old.
For 15 years, Emery filled WSM’s late-night hours with records and candid conversations and jam sessions with some of country music’s biggest names and newest talent — including Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Marty Robbins, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Emery credited his success in part to the “total autonomy” afforded to him by the early radio industry.
“I could play any record I wanted to play; nobody sat me down and told me what to play,” he said in 2007.
He first lent his voice to the Grand Ole Opry — one of his favorite radio broadcasts as a child — as an announcer in 1961, continuing in the role until 1964.
Emery recorded a Billboard country hit himself in 1961: “Hello Fool” (a take on Faron Young’s “Hello Walls”) reached No. 4 on the Billboard country music singles chart.
Emery hosted his first local television show, “Opry Almanac,” in 1963 on WSM-TV, kicking off his decades-long television presence.
Perhaps best known as the host of “Nashville Now” from 1983 to 1993, Emery’s career also included:
- “Sixteenth Avenue” from 1966-1969
- “Ralph Emery Show” from 1972-1991
- “Pop Goes the Country” from 1974-1980
- “Nashville Alive” from 1981-1982
- “Ralph Emery LIVE” (eventually “Ralph Emery’s Memories”) from 2007-2015
Emery also authored several books recounting his storied life in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Emery returned to airwaves in 2015 at age 82 to recreate an episode of “Nashville Now” in the company of former show guests Con Hunley, Ray Stevens, Lorrie Morgan, Barbara Mandrell and Steve Hall (know for his “Shotgun Red” puppet).
Emery is quoted saying his goal was to “bring respect to country music” in his Country Music Hall of Fame biography. “I’m very happy if people can see me and say, “He added dignity to his craft” or, “He brought class into the business.”
Emery is survived by Joy Emery, his three children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will not be disclosed.