Gordon Stoker, tenor singer for vocal group The Jordanaires, passed away March 27 at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee, reports the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He was 88.
Born August 3, 1924 in Gleason, Tennessee, Gordon grew up in a musical family and by eight was playing piano in church. He was soon playing at singing conventions in Western Tennessee and Kentucky. At one of the conventions, he caught the attention of John Daniel of the professional John Daniel Quartet who invited him to become the quartet’s first pianist when he finished high school.
Before joining John Daniel’s group, Gordon performed on radio in Jackson, Tennessee as a member of the Clement Trio and backed a gospel quartet who performed on a radio station out of Paducah, Kentucky. After graduating high school at age 15, he moved to Nashville to join the Daniel Quartet and began performing on radio station WSM.
Gordon joined the Air Force in 1943. After leaving the service, he enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University before eventually retuning to Nashville and the Daniel Quartet.
The Jordanaires, organized in the late 1940s, became a top gospel quartet. The group was formed by two evangelists, Bill Matthews and his brother Monty, in Springfield, Missouri. Bass singer Culley Holt and baritone Bob Hubbard completed the quartet with Bob Money acting as pianist early on.
Gordon replaced Bob Money as pianist in 1949 after the group moved to Nashville to back Grand Ole Opry headliner Red Foley. Gordon soon became the lead singer and tenor. After the Matthews brothers returned to Missouri in the early 1950s, the group reorganized with Gordon remaining as tenor with Neal Matthews Jr. as a second tenor, baritone Hoyt Hawkins and bass Hugh Jarrett joining by 1955. Hugh was replaced by Ray Walker in 1958, completing the group that would be the lineup elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
By 1950, the Jordanaires were known for their renditions of songs associated with both black and white gospel traditions, a genre they continued to work in after signing with Capitol in 1951. The group also started singing background on country records and their regular spots on the NBC network portion of the Grand Ole Opry and 1955’s Eddy Arnold Time made them a household name.
While the group’s gospel albums helped them be elected into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001, they are best known for the background harmonies they provided for dozens of other stars, including Elvis Presley on hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “It’s Now or Never,” which led them to work with other rock and roll stars like Ricky Nelson and Gene Vincent.
In the 1960s and beyond, the group often worked as many as four sessions a day. Their recordings with Ferlin Husky (“Gone”), Jim Reeves (“Four Walls”) and Patsy Cline (“Crazy”) showcase the smooth pop-influenced side of Nashville’s recording scene during the time period, while their work with Don Gibson (“Oh Lonesome Me’), Johnny Horton (“The Battle of New Orleans”), Tammy Wynette (“Stand by Your Man”) Conway Twitty (“Hello Darlin’”) and Kenny Rogers (“Lucile”) demonstrated their diversity.
The Jordanaires’ contributions to the Nashville recording industry include the system of studio music notation first popularized by Neal Matthews Jr. and known internationally as the Nashville Number System. They were also instrumental in establishing the Nashville offices of national performers’ unions representing radio and television artists and screen actors. After Hoyt Hawkins died in 1982, Duane West joined the group but left due to illness and was replaced in 2000 by Louis Nunley. Curtis Young joined in 2000 following Neal Matthews’s death.
In 2001 the Jordanaires were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2002, the won a GRAMMY with Larry Ford & the Light Crust Doughboys for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Album, for We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album.
The group’s final performance was in August 2012, in Tunica, Mississippi according to the Tennessean. Gordon was the group’s leader and owner, and The Jordanaires will not continue without him. “The group is over,” Alan Stoker, Gordon’s son, said. “It was a wonderful run. My father lived a great life, and left us a great legacy.”
Gordon is survived by Jean Stoker, his wife of 61 years, sons Alan and Brent, daughter Venita and daughter-in-law Jeanne, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 28, and again on Friday, March 29, at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, 660 Thompson Lane in Nashville. A memorial service will be held Saturday, March 30, at 2 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church, 2323 Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville, with visitation one hour prior to the service.