The deaths of two foundational country talents— Naomi Judd and Loretta Lynn— marred 2022.
News about Judd's unexpected death at age 76 spread on April 30: just one day before The Judds, her mother-daughter duo with Wynonna Judd, became enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame. A statement from daughters Wynonna and Ashley Judd attributed Naomi's death to "the disease of mental illness."
Lynn impacted popular culture —much less country music— across her lengthy career as a performer, poet, songwriter, truth-teller and person of faith. The "Fist City" singer died in her sleep at age 90.
Additional country stars and country-adjacent celebrities that died this year include hall of famers, broadcast pioneers, country-punks and transformative songwriters and producers. Read on for a roundup of the other talents we lost in 2022.
Jerry Ray Johnston (Sept. 8, 1956 ~ Jan. 9, 2022)
Jerry Ray Johnston was a former member of the major label country band Bandana and a longtime drummer in the Grand Ole Opry house band. He was the father of the Cadillac Three's lead singer, Jaren Johnston.
Jerry Crutchfield (Aug. 10, 1934 - Jan. 11, 2022)
Kentucky native Jerry Crutchfield produced gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums for the likes of Lee Greenwood, Tanya Tucker, Chris LeDoux and Tracy Byrd. He also wrote songs cut by Brenda Lee ("My Whole World is Falling Down") and Elvis Presley ("Find Out What's Happening").
Fred Geiger (1940 - Jan. 12, 2022)
Banjo picker and instructor Fred Geiger died in an early morning house fire at his Maryland residence. Per Bluegrass Today, Geiger wrote a column for Banjo NewsLetter from the early '80s until 2017.
Janice Wendell (July 11, 1942 - Jan. 13, 2022)
A Nashville-based philanthropist and longtime CMA board member, Janice Wendell began her professional career producing and selling such nationally-syndicated TV programs as The Porter Wagoner Show.
Dallas Frazier (Oct. 27, 1939 - Jan. 14, 2022)
Dallas Frazier belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame for writing or co-writing multiple all-time great country songs: Jack Greene's "There Goes My Everything," Charley Pride's "All I Have To Offer You (Is Me)"," The Oak Ridge Boys' "Elvira," Emmylou Harris' "Beneath Still Waters," the often-covered "Carolina Cotton Fields" and too many Connie Smith classics to list.
Dan Einstein (Dec. 11, 1960 - Jan. 15, 2022)
Grammy winner Dan Einstein co-founded two independent record labels with impactful singer-songwriters: John Prine's Oh Boy Records and Steve Goodman's Red Pajamas Records.
Ralph Emery (March 10, 1933 - Jan. 15, 2022)
Syndicated TV series Pop! Goes the Country and subsequent gigs for TNN and RFD-TV made veteran DJ Ralph Emery a constant, coast-to-coast presence in the living rooms of country fans.
Hargus "Pig" Robbins (Jan. 18, 1938 - Jan. 30, 2022)
Country Music Hall of Fame keyboardist and A-team session musician Hargus "Pig" Robbins played on such seminal hit songs as George Jones' "White Lightnin'" and Roger Miller's "Dang Me."
Kerry Chater (Aug. 7, 1945 - Feb. 4, 2022)
Kerry Chater first rose to fame as the bassist of oldies radio mainstays Gary Puckett & the Union Gap. He later found success in Nashville, co-writing two songs that topped the country charts in 1983: George Strait's "You Look So Good in Love" and Reba McEntire's "You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving."
Blake Mevis (1942? - Feb. 9, 2022)
Blake Mavis helped guide the early career of George Strait as the producer of the albums Strait Country and Strait From the Heart. He also co-wrote Strait's first No. 1 hit, "Fool Hearted Memory." In addition, he gets credit for connecting Strait with songwriter Dean Dillon.
Dallas Good (1973 - Feb. 17, 2022)
Dallas Good and his brother Travis (sons of Bruce Good from bluegrass act The Good Brothers) helped dictate the shape of alt-country to come as members of Toronto-based band the Sadies.
Scotty Wray (Nov. 22, 1957 - Feb. 18, 2022)
A former member of family band The Wrays alongside his famous brother Collin Raye, Scotty Wray earned a reputation of his own across a 20-year run as Miranda Lambert's guitarist.
Sam Henry (Dec. 28, 1956 - Feb. 20, 2022)
Sam Henry, a drummer for honky-tonk bands in the Pacific Northwest in the '70s, played on early albums by punk greats and Kurt Cobain favorites Wipers. Late in life, he performed with fellow country-punks in Jenny Don't and The Spurs.
Mike Dekle (June 25, 1944 - Feb. 24, 2022)
Longtime Athens, Ga. resident Mike Dekle wrote or co-wrote several songs cut by Kenny Rogers, namely "Scarlet Fever," a Top 5 country hit in 1983. Dekle later became a collaborator and mentor of Brantley Gilbert.
Warner Mack (April 2, 1935 - March 1, 2022)
The rare Nashville native-turned-country star, Warner Mack charted 23 hits between the late '50s and the early '80s. He's best known for "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)" (1957) and "The Bridge Washed Out" (1965).
Jimbeau Hinson (1952? - March 4, 2022)
Jimbeau Hinson wrote No. 1 Oak Ridge Boys hit "Fancy Free" as well as songs cut by Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Steve Earle and others. Hinson was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and spent many years as a HIV/AIDS activist.
Jim Owens (Aug. 27, 1937 - March 4, 2022)
The late producer Jim Owens shaped country music's television presence, starting in the '70s with the launch of the fan-voted Music City News Country Awards. In 1983, he first paired Crook & Chase, the still active entertainment and music-reporting duo of Charlie Chase and Owens' wife for nearly four decades, Lorianne Crook.
Bobbie Nelson (Jan. 1, 1931 - March 10, 2022)
Keyboardist and pianist Bobbie Nelson, Willie Nelson's older sister and longtime collaborator, had toured and recorded with his Family Band since the 1970s.
Brad Martin (May 3, 1973 - March 11, 2022)
Brad Martin's lone major label full-length, 2002's Wings of a Honky-Tonk Angel, entered the Billboard Top Country Album's Top 40. Its best-known single, "Before I Knew Better" brought Martin's tradition-exalting sound to the Top 15.
Bruce Birch (Jan. 30, 1953 - March 12, 2022)
Bruce Birch, co-writer of Reba McEntire hits "Rumor Has It" and "It's Your Call," died from complications from leukemia. As creative director of EMI Music Publishing, the Gainesville, Ga. native helped young songwriters perfect their craft.
Mary Jane Thomas (1963? - March 23, 2022)
Hank Williams Jr.'s wife since 1990 and the mother of country singer-songwriter Sam Williams died from a complication following a medical procedure.
Jane Dowden Grams (1932? - March 24, 2022)
Nashville-based television executive Jane Dowden Grams impacted the spread of country music into living rooms across the nation. As the president of production company Show Biz Inc. in the '60s and '70s, she had a hand in such influential series as The Porter Wagoner Show and The Wilburn Brothers Show. She later served a similar role for Opryland USA's syndicated programming.
Jim Miller (1953? - March 24, 2022)
Jim Miller died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest while on tour with Western Centuries. The longtime Americana tastemaker co-founded the group Donna the Buffalo and collaborated with the likes of Dirk Powell, Rosie & Richie Stearns, Jim Lauderdale, Ginny Hawker and Tim O'Brien.
Bonnie "Woo" Taggert (September 9, 1942 - March 25,2022)
Bonnie "Woo" Taggert's roles in the country music business included director of creative services roles for Warner Bros. and Capitol Records. She later started her own agency, BRPR, and signed Chet Atkins as her first client. After marrying golf pro Joe Taggert in 1990, the industry veteran helped Vince Gill create his fundraising golf tournament, The Vinny.
Jeff Carson (Dec. 16, 1963 - March 26, 2022)
Oklahoma native Jeff Carson scored a series of country hits in the '90s, including No. 1 "Not on Your Love" and Top 10 entries "The Car" and "Holdin' Onto Somethin'." He also recorded "Today I Started Loving You Again" with its legendary co-writer, Merle Haggard.
James Taft Moore III (1938- March 29, 2022)
As a photographer, James "Jimmy" Taft Moore III shot photos for gospel and country album covers and was part of the Johnny Cash Show staff. He was also an accomplished poet, actor and director and was a regular on Hee Haw.
C.W. McCall (Nov. 15, 1928 - April 1, 2022)
C.W. McCall, the alter ego of ad executive Bill Fries, scored a surprise crossover pop hit in the mid-'70s with the CB radio lingo-filled recitation song "Convoy." It inspired a Kris Kristofferson film of the same title. The McCall character landed a second hit with "Roses for Mama," a song previously recorded by fellow trucker song trendsetter Red Sovine.
Roland White (April 23, 1938 - April 1, 2022)
Bluegrass vocalist and mandolin marvel Roland White etched his name in history during stints with the Kentucky Colonels, Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and other crucial acts. He remained active until the end as a frequent performer at Nashville's bluegrass mecca, The Station Inn. His brother, the late Clarence White, pioneered country-rock with the Byrds.
Bayron E. Binkley Sr. (1933 - April 25, 2022)
Bayron E. Binkley worked for Nashville's WSMV-TV beginning in the late 1950s, which launched a decades-long run of impacting country music's television presence. He later helped develop some of TNN's earliest series, including Church Street Station.
Johnnie Barber (1951?- May 5, 2022)
Johnnie Barber played drums for a who's-who of country legends, including Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck. He remained active late in life, regularly sitting behind the kit at Robert's Western World and other Nashville honky-tonks.
Mickey Gilley (March 9, 1936 - May 7, 2022)
Mickey Gilley, a country superstar whose mainstream profile rose following the success of the John Travolta film Urban Cowboy, scored 17 No. 1 hits.
Per a statement from Gilley's publicist, the singer "had just come off of the road, his favorite place, having played ten shows in April. He passed peacefully with his family and close friends by his side."
Jack Cole (Aug. 12, 1933 - May 16, 2022)
The son of Grady and Hazel Cole, Jack Cole became a singing child star in the Southeast as part of his parents' live radio presence in Atlanta (WGST), Knoxville, Tenn. (WNOX) and elsewhere. Jack also performed with Lost John and his Allied Kentuckians: a group that later featured Earl Scruggs. As a teenager, Jack recorded gospel music with his parents as the Cole Family Trio, including a split 78 with the Maddox Brothers and Rose. He spent most of his adult life as an independent Baptist minister.
Thom Bresch (1948? - May 23, 2022)
Guitar wizard, humorist and "Home Made Love" (1976) hitmaker Thom Bresch also made a name for himself as a director and producer of music videos and concert TV specials. He was the son of country legend Merle Travis.
James Price (1965? - May 23, 2022)
Prominent bluegrass fiddler James Price died in his sleep on May 23, 2022. The 57 year old toured with Dr. Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys from 1995 to 2003. In addition, he recorded solo material, fronted the bands Kentucky Reign and Native Country and toured with Little Jimmy Dickens and Johnny Paycheck.
Joe Gilchrist (April 17, 1942 - May 25, 2022)
In 1978, Joe Gilchrist and a trio of partners —Pat McClellan, Cameron Price and John McInnis— purchased the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package & Oyster bar, a country music hotbed in Pensacola, Fla. The change in ownership began the venue's shift toward supporting the local songwriter scene, which led to the still-active Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival.
Bill Walker (April 28, 1927 - May 26, 2022)
Australia native Bill Walker (not to be confused with country star Billy Walker) wrote many of the arrangements that sweetened the Nashville Sound in the '60s. He also served as musical director of ABC's The Johnny Cash Show and TNN's The Statler Brothers Show. Per his obituary, "Walker is credited for having arranged and conducted music for shows attended by three American presidents."
Saundra Steele (1949 - May 30, 2022)
Nashville-based philanthropist and recording artist Saundra Steele had a solo pop-country career in addition to runs as a prominent demo singer and a touring backup vocalist for George Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Rodriguez and others.
Deborah McCrary (June 17, 1954 - June 1, 2022)
The deep-voiced sibling in the McCrary Sisters, Deborah McCrary sang backup for the likes of Elvis Presley and Ray Stevens before joining her sisters in a gospel recording act that's performed and recorded with the likes of Carrie Underwood and Margo Price.
Hal Bynum (Sept. 29, 1934 - June 2, 2022)
Country songwriter Hal Bynum is best known for "Lucille," an ACM and CMA award-winning co-write with Roger Bowling that was popularized by Kenny Rogers. Other Bynum songs of note include "Chains" (Patty Loveless), "Papa was a Good Man" (Johnny Cash) and "Ain't No Good Chain Gang" (Cash and Waylon Jennings).
Jim Seals (Oct. 17, 1941 - June 6, 2022)
As one-half of Seals and Croft, Jim Seals contributed to the breezy, folksy feel of '70s pop. He's from a family of country musicians, from his brother Dan to cousin Johnny Duncan and nephew Brady Seals of Little Texas.
Al Cooley (1946? - June 9, 2022)
Longtime Nashville music executive Al Cooley worked on the publishing end of the business before and after stints as an A&R director and vice president for Atlantic Records Nashville.
Bobby Flores (June 18, 1961 - June 23, 2022)
Texas Western Swing Music Hall of Fame fiddler Bobby Flores collaborated with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, Freddie Fender and other fellow legends throughout a lengthy and influential career.
Bil VornDick (March 9, 1950 - July 5, 2022)
Nashville-based recording engineer, producer, songwriter and studio owner Bil VornDick won nine Grammy awards off 40 career nominations for his work with Alison Krauss and a variety of other bluegrass, folk and country artists.
Glenn Meadows (1949 - July 7, 2022)
Two-time Grammy award-winner Glenn Meadows was one of the most sought-after recording engineers in Nashville. He worked on hundreds of influential records by the likes of Merle Haggard, Taylor Swift and others.
Mickey Rooney Jr. (July 3, 1945 - July 16, 2022)
The eldest son of Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney wore many hats in the entertainment business. Though his various roles, he made music with Willie Nelson and co-starred with Nelson in the 1980 film Honeysuckle Rose.
Shonka Dukureh (Sept. 3, 1977 - July 21, 2022)
Gospel and blues singer Shonka Dukureh died on July 21 in her Nashville apartment. She had recently rose to prominence as a Doja Cat collaborator and one of the stars of the biopic Elvis, in which she portrays Big Mama Thornton.
Lee Sandy (Aug. 8, 1928 - July 28, 2022)
Lee Sandy played bass and provided comic relief (as Uncle Puny) in multiple stints as a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. Sandy also collaborated with bluegrass influencers Jimmy Martin and Jim & Jesse.
Dick Smith (Oct. 4, 1943 - July 28, 2022)
Washington, D.C.-area banjoist Dick Smith spent multiple years with Del McCoury's Dixie Pals, the Country Gentleman, the Lynn Morris Band and, more recently, the Jerry McCoury Band.
Ed Hardy (1949? - Aug. 1, 2022)
Radio veteran, Music Row executive and former CMA board chairman Ed Hardy served eight years as the president of cable network Great American Country (GAC).
Olivia Newton-John (Sept. 26, 1948 - Aug. 8, 2022)
Before crossing over to acting and pop music, America met Olivia Newton-John as one of the '70s' most prominent pop-country stars. In 1974, she won the CMA's coveted Female Vocalist of the Year award.
Ben Farrell (July 17, 1946 - Aug. 10, 2022)
For over 30 years, minor league baseball player turned influential concert promoter Ben Farrell worked closely with Garth Brooks.
Larry Petree (1933 - Aug. 21, 2022?)
A Bakersfield, Cal.-based steel guitarist died under mysterious circumstances in August. Larry Petree and his wife of 60 years, Betty, were discovered along with their car in a remote desert in California. No foul play was suspected.
Luke Bell (Jan. 27, 1990 - Aug. 29, 2022)
An influential country traditionalist, Luke Bell was reported missing in Arizona on Aug. 20. His body was found nine days later, not far from where he was last seen.
Wes Freed (April 25, 1964 - Sept. 4, 2022)
Musician and visual artist Wes Freed remains synonymous with the album covers and aesthetic of Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers.
Art Rosenbaum (Dec, 6, 1938 - Sept. 4, 2022)
Painter, educator and multi-instrumentalist Art Rosenbaum was among the South's most influential folklorists. He won a Grammy award in 2008 for Best Historical Album (Art Of Field Recording Volume I: Fifty Years Of Traditional American Music Documented By Art Rosenbaum).
Ray Edenton (Nov. 3, 1926 - Sept. 2022)
The death of legendary Nashville session musician Ray Edenton was announced on Sept. 22, 2022. The multi-instrumentalist played on crucial recordings by Marty Robbins, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, the Everly Brothers and other Country Music Hall of Fame acts.
Joe Chambers (July 27, 1954 - Sept. 28, 1982)
Before founding the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, Joe Chambers played in a rock band and co-wrote songs cut by country stars, including Randy Travis' "Old 8x10" and Ricky Van Shelton's "Somebody Lied."
Jody Miller (Nov. 29, 1941 - Oct. 6, 2022)
Country and pop singer Jody Miller won the second-ever Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy award in 1966 for "Queen of the House," a sarcastic send-up of Roger Miller's (no relation) "King of the Road." She continued to chart country songs throughout the '60s and '70s.
Anita Kerr (Oct. 13, 1927 - Oct. 10, 2022)
If you listen to just about any hit country song out of Nashville from the late '50s or early '60s, you're likely to hear backup vocals by either the Jordaniares or the Anita Kerr Singers. The leader of the latter worked in Nashville and elsewhere for decades as a sought-after singer, arranger, composer, conductor, pianist and producer.
Robert Gordon (March 29, 1947 - Oct. 18, 2022)
A rockabilly artist elevated by the rise of punk rock and immortalized by his work with guitar legend Link Wray, Robert Gordon taught his fellow rockers about the longstanding overlap between rock and country.
Don Edwards (1936? - Oct. 23, 2022)
A New Jersey native and country singer-songwriter, Don Edwards impacted all things western, from his role in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer to a lengthy music career during which he crossed paths with Nanci Griffith, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice.
Leslie Jordan (April 29, 1955 - Oct. 24, 2022)
This comedian, actor, activist and social media superstar loved country music and recruited many of its stars for his first and only gospel album, 2021's Company's Comin'.
Jerry Lee Lewis (Sept.29, 1935 - Oct. 28, 2022)
An early rock pioneer with a string of country hits from the late '60s through the '80s, Jerry Lee Lewis died less than two weeks after his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He's one of 14 individuals or groups in both the rock and country halls of fame.
Jerry Whitehurst (May 12, 1938 - Oct. 30, 2022)
Jerry Whitehurst played piano on numerous country-themed television shows, namely Hee Haw and Ralph Emery's Nashville Now. He was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry staff band.
Patrick Haggerty (Sept. 27, 1944 - Oct. 31, 2022)
Patrick Haggerty made history in 1973 when his band Lavender Country released what's considered the first gay-themed album in country music history. He got his due in more recent years as a queer country pioneer through renewed interest in his music and legacy.
Jeff Cook (Aug. 27, 1949 - Nov. 7, 2022)
Fiddler, guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Jeff Cook co-founded Alabama with cousins Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen. In the '80s, the group created a place in the mainstream for every self-contained country band that followed.
Jake Flint (May 6, 1985 - Nov. 26, 2022)
A member of Oklahoma's Red Dirt scene, Jake Flint died in his sleep within hours of marrying his wife Brenda. The singer-songwriter behind 2020's "What's Your Name" had a slate of tour stops well into 2023. As of Nov. 30, no cause of death had been announced.
Peter Cooper (1960?- Dec. 6, 2022)
Peter Cooper was a music journalist for the Tennessean from 2000- 2014 before joining the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where he served as a senior director, producer and writer. In those and other roles, he shaped fan perceptions of country music's past, present and future. The 52-year-old singer, songwriter, journalist and scholar died a week after suffering a severe head injury.
Charlie Monk (Oct. 29, 1938 - Dec. 19, 2022)
A radio and music publishing legend known as the Mayor of Music Row, Charlie Monk held numerous roles in the country music business before his late-life gigs with SiriusXM. A songwriter in his own right, Monk helped pen songs cut by Louise Mandrell, Jerry Reed, Jimmy Dean and Charley Pride.
Ian Tyson (Sept. 25, 1933 - Dec. 29, 2022)
Legendary Canadian cowboy and folk singer-songwriter Ian Tyson died on Dec. 29 at age 89. As part of husband and wife duo Ian & Sylvia, Tyson contributed to the '60s folk boom. The couple also impacted country-rock with their band Great Speckled Bird. He went on to become a national treasure and a hero and collaborator of Corb Lund.
Anita Pointer (Jan. 23, 1948 - Dec. 31, 2022)
Pointer Sisters member Anita Pointer sang a trio of impactful country songs. Two were with her sisters: crossover country hit "Fairytale" and future Conway Twitty standard "Slow Hand." She also reached No. 2 on the country charts with the 1986 Earl Thomas Conley duet "Too Many Times."
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