Walter Ralph Emery, member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, National Radio Hall of Fame and New York Times bestselling author, died Saturday while surrounded by his family at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.
Emery was 88 years old.
A statement from Emery’s family said he “passed away peacefully” and had “deep love for his family, friends and fans”.
“Ralph Emery’s impact on expanding the audience for country music is incalculable,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “On radio and TV, he let fans know the people behind the songs. Ralph was more of a great 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 others. Above all, he believed in the music and the people who make it.
Emery was born on March 10, 1933 in McEwen, Tennessee. While her family was troubled, Emery found some peace on her grandparents’ farm and later in a radio booth at various local radio stations.
The defining moment in Emery’s career came in November 1957 when he landed a job as a late-night host on Nashville’s WSM radio station. His informal conversational style and open-door family policy won the trust of the country music elite.
He was an announcer on the Grand Ole Opry from 1961 to 1964, and he won his first television show – the early morning “Opry Almanac” in 1963 – on WSM-TV. He moved to afternoons from 1966 to 1969 with “Sixteenth Avenue” and began his wildly popular “The Ralph Emery Show” in 1972. The show ran for 19 years. In addition, Emery hosted the weekly nationally broadcast television series “Pop Goes the Country” from 1974 to 1980 and the Nashville Network’s prime-time country music talk show “Nashville Now” from 1983 to 1993. .
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Emery became one of the most respected figures in country music history throughout his career, earning the nickname “The Dean of Country Music Broadcasters”.
“I’ve always tried to bring respect to country music,” Emery said in his Country Music Hall of Fame biography. “I will be very happy if people can look at me and say, ‘He brought dignity to his craft’ or ‘He brought class to the business’.”
According to a statement from his family, the broadcasting legend “passed away peacefully” at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, surrounded by his loved ones.
On Saturday night, the country music community that Emery loved so much came together to share their memories and condolences on the occasion of his passing.
“He was an incredible conversationalist, a brilliant broadcaster, and one of the genre’s true great ambassadors,” said CMT’s Cody Alan. “RIP, Ralph.”
Country Music Hall of Fame member Ronnie Milsap said Emery “understands artists as human beings.”
“If Ralph loved you, chances are you’d make it in Nashville,” Milsap said. “I loved him on WSM and every TV show he ever aired.”
Tanya Tucker, also a Hall of Famer, said she was “heartbroken to have lost Mr. Country Music.”
“He’s been so good to me throughout my career and a big part of it,” Tucker said. “We are losing so many (our) warriors who have really held our music together… such a sad day for me. My thoughts, my prayers, my love go out to his family. ❤️🌹#ralphemery”
Collin Raye called Emery’s death a “great loss” to the country music world.
“No one in our history has ever promoted our music and country music artists as faithfully and generously for as long as Ralph,” Raye said. “He made a huge difference in my career throughout the ’90s, and in every artist that came on the scene. He really crossed over into country music on TV, and we all benefited greatly from that…And most importantly, he was a very nice and kind man. There will never be another one. I’m pretty confident he’s with the greats of the past as we speak. He’s laughing and telling stories of road.
Mike McGuire of Shenandoah said Emery “was always kind” to the band and was a “big supporter” of their career.
“He was like that with a lot of new country music acts,” McGuire said. “We are sad to see him go.”
Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook of Alabama called Emery “the voice and face of country music for the past five decades”.
John Anderson called Emery “one of the best friends country music has ever had” and Leroy Van Dyke said he was “an encyclopedia of country music and an authentic voice for country music”. Doug Gray of the Marshall Tucker Band said Emery had always wanted the band to sing “This Ole Cowboy”.
“The lyrics say, ‘Won’t be the first time this old cowboy has spent the night alone,'” Gray quotes. “Now Ralph will never be alone, today and forever.”
Lorrie Morgan was particularly close to Emery and said he was “like a father to me”.
“When my father died, he took me under his wing,” Morgan said. “He was tough on me when he had to and he gave me lots of praise when he thought I deserved it. He was a great friend and a true lover of art in all genres of music.
Emery is survived by his wife, Joy Emery, three sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His cause of death has not been revealed. Funeral arrangements are pending.