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Jo Walker-Meador (1924 - 2017)

Getty / CMA / Jason Davis

Jo Walker-Meador (1924 - 2017)

Jo Walker-Meador, who rose from the Country Music Association’s office manager to lead the organization for 29 years, died Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in Nashville following a stroke, according to the CMA. She was 93.

One of 10 children in a Tennessee farming family, Walker-Meador worked in an aircraft plant during World War II. She then studied to become an English teacher but took a clerical position with the Country Music Association in 1958, becoming the young organization’s first paid employee.

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When Executive Director Harry Stone resigned in 1962, Walker-Meador informally took over his duties on an interim basis. It is said that when the CMA’s board met to select a permanent replacement, country legend Minnie Pearl suggested Walker-Meador, saying, “Jo’s doing all the work. Why don’t we just hire her?” The board did so, and she served as executive director until retiring in 1991.

Under her leadership, the CMA established the annual Country Music Awards in 1967, as well as the annual Fan Fair, now known as the CMA Music Festival, in 1972. Walker-Meador also helped create the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the early 1960s. She worked tirelessly to expand country music’s popularity, both in the U.S. and internationally, and saw radio stations dedicated to the genre multiply from 100 to more than 2,000 during her tenure as executive director. She also grew the CMA itself from about 200 members to more than 7,000.

Following her retirement, the CMA established the Jo Walker-Meador Award, given annually to recognize “outstanding achievement by an individual or company in advocating and supporting Country Music’s marketing development in territories outside the United States.” In 1995, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2008, her name was added to Nashville’s Walk of Fame.

Walker-Meador is survived by a daughter, Michelle Walker; two step-children, Rob and Karen Meador; and a brother, Pete Denning.

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