Former staff pianist for WSMV, Jerry Whitehurst, passes away at age 84
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Jerry Whitehurst, a longtime pianist for “Hee Haw,” Ralph Emery’s “Nashville Now,” and the Grand Ole Opry staff band has died at the age of 84 on Oct. 30.
Whitehurst got his first big break playing piano part-time in the Grand Ole Opry backing band in 1961 in his early 20s when he was working by day for a trucking firm.
While he played for the Opry on the weekends, he became a staff pianist for WSM radio and TV, including for WSM’s “Bobby Lord Show” on syndicated TV.
His resume quickly bloomed from there and he went on landing one job after another in Nashville including the following:
- The “Hee Haw” house band, starting with the show’s CBS-TV debut in 1969
- Ralph Emery’s local WSM early-morning TV show in Nashville led to him becoming the musical director and pianist for Emery’s “Nashville Now” talk show on The Nashville Network (though Whitehurst continued doing Emery’s WSM show).
By the 1980s, Whitehurst was so in demand he was doing around 500 TV episodes per year, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
He won the Academy of Country Music’s Non-Touring Band of the Year award five years in a row from 1985 to 1989 for the staff band he led, “Nashville Now.”
Over the years, Whitehurst also occasionally played on occasional Nashville recording sessions for Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Paycheck, Connie Smith, Marty Robbins and others. However, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Whitehurst preferred a live audience at the Opry and on “Nashville Now.”
“I had much rather do live performances,” he told the “Nashville Banner.” “That’s why I enjoy our daily TV shows so much. There’s a feeling a musician gets from a live audience that you don’t find while taping a show.”
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