Roy Clark, One Of Country Music’s Most Beloved Entertainers, Passes Away At 85

“Our community and fans around the world have lost a strong ambassador for Country Music,” said CMA CEO Sarah Trahern. “Roy was one of those instantly recognizable artists. I was blessed to get to work with him on many occasions and I will forever smile thinking of him Pickin’ and Grinnin’.”

Roy Clark, one of Country Music’s most-beloved entertainers, passed away in Tulsa, OK, November 15, 2018 at the age of 85.

Music came naturally to Roy Linwood Clark, who was born on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Virginia. His father was a proficient musician, playing guitar, fiddle, and banjo. Young Roy followed his father’s example, playing quite often with him in the area as a teenager.

By the age of twenty, Roy was playing professionally, making a name for himself around his native Virginia. He toured with Grandpa Jones – whom he would work with years later on “Hee Haw,” performed on a show that was fronted by Hank Williams, and made an appearance on a popular TV show in the Washington, D.C. area.

The exposure that Roy gained led him to be noticed by local broadcasting giant – and future Country Music Hall of Fame member – Connie B. Gay, who invited him to appear on his “Town and Country Time” radio and TV broadcasts, as well as at concerts Gay promoted in the area. He also appeared on the popular CBS series “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” and shared the stage with artists such as Jimmy Dean and Patsy Cline.

In 1960, Roy was offered a job playing for the legendary Wanda Jackson, which helped him grow his reputation as an ace musician. He also recorded with her, and opened her shows in Las Vegas at the Golden Nugget. By years’ end, he was offered a contract with Capitol Records, Jackson’s label. His first single for the company, “Texas Twist,” failed to ignite any fires, but by 1963, he was riding high on the hit parade with Bill Anderson’s “The Tips Of My Fingers,” which climbed all the way to No. 10 on the Billboard charts.

Roy wouldn’t see another record approach the top ten for six more years, but with manager Jim Halsey guiding his career, he built his brand in another way – television. Former employer Jimmy Dean invited him to appear when he filled in on “The Tonight Show.” He took full advantage of the medium, which heightened his profile considerably.

Three years later (1969) proved to be a watershed year for Roy. First of all, he made several appearances on “The Beverly Hillbillies” – playing the dual roles of businessman Roy Halsey and Roy’s mother, Myrtle. He achieved his biggest hit with the haunting “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” and on June 15 – he began a 25-year association as one of the leading citizens of ‘Kornfield Kounty’ on “Hee Haw.”

A countrified version of Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In,” “Hee Haw” drew viewers in week after week for a combination of Country Music and corny jokes. After three seasons on CBS, exec Fred Silverman axed the show to make way for a more urban/upscale image. However, the producers knew they had a winning formula, and took the show into first-run syndication – where it would be a weekend staple until 1993. The show provided an avenue for Roy and co-host Buck Owens to become known on a first-name basis with American audiences, and the pair were also featured on items such as comic books and lunch boxes.

“Hee Haw” also provided Roy a chance to exercise his musical talents, as well as his comedic side. In addition to his solo performances, he also was a part of the award-winning “Hee Haw” Gospel Quartet with Buck Owens, Grandpa Jones, and Kenny Price, and also as a part of the Million-Dollar Band with Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Jethro Burns, Boots Randolph, Johnny Gimble, Charlie McCoy, and Danny Davis.

The exposure that Roy received on “Hee Haw” – combined with his signing with Dot Records – led to his most successful stint as a recording artist. Songs like “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” were major hits at Country Radio.  He notched a number one hit in 1973 with Boudleaux Bryant’s romantic ballad “Come Live With Me,” and remained a force on the airwaves throughout the decade. He also continued to be a much sought-after television personality, appearing on programs such as “The Muppet Show” and “Austin City Limits.”

He also maintained a presence on the road as a popular performer – in the United States and abroad. In 1976, Clark made history by becoming one of the first American artists to perform in the Soviet Union. The stint proved to be quite successful, with him playing to packed houses each night. The tour also proved to be a successful Country launching pad for his opening act, The Oak Ridge Boys.

Into the 1980’s, Roy continued to play for fans on the road, as well as appear in national advertising campaigns for a variety of companies. He appeared in films such as “Matilda” and “Uphill All The Way” (with Mel Tillis). In 1983, he made headlines by establishing the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in the then-tiny Branson, Missouri – becoming one of the first to invest in the city, which became a mecca for music fans in the 1990s. In 1987, he achieved a longtime goal with a membership invitation from the Grand Ole Opry, where he was a member until his passing. In 1994, Roy released his autobiography My Life in Spite of Myself.

Along the way, his peers honored him with seven CMA Awards, among them the afore-mentioned Entertainer of the Year Award in 1973. He was Comedian of the Year for 1970, won the Instrumental Group of the Year Award (with banjoist Buck Trent) in 1975 and 1976, and was named Instrumentalist of the Year in 1977, 1978, and 1980. His rendition of “Alabama Jubilee” earned him a 1982 Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

Roy Clark was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of sixty-one years, his sons Roy Clark II and wife Karen, Dr. Michael Meyer and wife Robin, Terry Lee Meyer, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart, and his grandchildren: Brittany Meyer, Michael Meyer, Caleb Clark, Josiah Clark and his sister, Susan Coryell.

Roy Clark, who co-hosted with Johnny Cash, plays fiddle during “The 10th Annual CMA Awards” broadcast live from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Monday, Oct. 11, 1976 on the CBS Television Network.. Photo credit: CMA

Roy Clark and Brad Paisley perform “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” in the opening medley at “The 50th Annual CMA Awards,” live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 on the ABC Television Network. Photo credit: Donn Jones/CMA

Roy Clark at “The 50th Annual CMA Awards,” broadcast live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 on the ABC Television Network. Photo credit: Joseph Llanes