|By JOE LOFARO |
Special to the Press
When Gordon Stoker, a Gleason native and a member of The Jordanaires vocal group that backed Elvis Presley, died this past Wednesday, his niece Jenna Wright said Stoker was “the best uncle in the world.”
“He knew where he came from and he loved the people. He was a great person,” said Wright, who chairs the department of English at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Wright’s son, Zac, served as a pallbearer in Saturday’s funeral. “I was 12 years old before I realized Uncle Gordon was famous,” Zac Wright said. “He always wanted butter beans on okra.”
Stoker’s career started at Tumbling Creek Baptist Church, outside of Gleason, when he was 8 years old. In addition to playing the piano at church, he played at singing conventions in West Tennessee. “Mom and dad hung on them (singing conventions),” Stoker was quoted as saying. “I remember singing in Fulton and Martin.”
Better known as Hugh Gordon, he performed with the Clement Trio on WTJS in Jackson. He was recruited, after graduating from Gleason, to be the pianist in Nashville’s John Daniel Quartet. It was here that Stoker played on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry.
After three years in the Air Force, Stoker moved to Oklahoma to be near family, but in 1948 he moved back to Nashville and rejoined the Daniel Quartet, who was now playing on WLAC radio.
He met his wife, the former Jean Wilkerson, in 1949, at a church singing in Nashville. In 1950, he auditioned for and won the piano-playing job for the Jordanaires.
“The Jordanaires drew on both black and white gospel music, as well as many of the hymns Stoker knew by heart from his childhood in rural West Tennessee,” said Joe Rumble in a recent Associated Press article. Rumble is the senior historian at the County Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Stoker and the Jordanaires became members of the prestigious Hall of Fame in 2001.
Not only did Stoker play the piano for the Jordanaires but he also took on the role as a vocalist, singing tenor. The group performed together for 60 years, singing backup for Presley, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, George Jones, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Red Foley and Kenny Rogers.
“He was so famous,” Wright said. “But to me he was just Uncle Gordon. He was an extremely unassuming person.”
Wright said her uncle attended her high school graduation in Gleason and Stoker, his wife and three children were in the fieldhouse when she graduated from UT Martin.
Wright said her family was extremely close. In fact, Wright’s father, the late Wayne Stoker, and Gordon were together with others for Thanksgiving in 1983 when Mike Snider dropped by the house.
“Wayne knew I won the national banjo playing contest in September of 1983,” Snider said. “It was on Thanksgiving in 1983, when I met Gordon at Wayne’s house. “Gordon asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I told him I would like to play on the Grand Ole Opry stage one time.”
“I remember Wayne telling Gordon he had to hear me play because I was something a little different,” Snider said.
Thanks to the Stokers, Wayne and Gordon, Snider was able to play on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. He also appeared on Nashville Now and starred on Hee Haw. He is now a member of the Grand Ole Opry and he host segments this past weekend at the Opry.
“I didn’t even want to be in the music business,” Snider said. “I was farming. I couldn’t have done it without Wayne and Gordon. They were two really nice men who went out of their way to help somebody they didn’t even know.”
Wright will be the first to echo Snider’s comments about her dad and her uncle. “When my dad got real sick a couple of year’s ago, Uncle Gordon would call him every day, no matter where he was.
Uncle Gordon also called Wright often. “When he would say goodbye he always said, ‘I love you, baby.’”
At Gordon Stoker’s funeral at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Wright was just as unassuming as her uncle.
“I am sure there were some big-name celebrities there, but I don’t keep up with all that,” she said.
In case your wondering about the music, Gordon Stoker and the Jordanaires sang backup on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “No Tears in Heaven,” Presley’s “Known Only to Him” and Foley’s “This World is Not My Home.”
Despite the stellar lineup of music, Wright remembers the last words her uncle Gordon Stoker said to her, “I love you baby.”
Elvis photos on display at UTM: A photography display titled “ELVIS: Grace and Grit” is featured in the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Paul Meek Library Museum.
The display opened Monday and runs through May 31. An opening reception is Thursday from noon to 12:30.
“ELVIS: Grace and Grit” is the latest traveling exhibition from the CBS Television Photo Archive.
Shot by various CBS photographers, the exhibition contains 35 candid and on-air photographs documenting Elvis before the Las Vegas years — during the meteoric rise of this star, according to Victoria Ann Rehberg, exhibition marketing manager.
The exhibition was curated by National Exhibitions & Archives, LLC of Glens Falls, NY and the CBS Photo Archive.
The images, taken by CBS photographers, represent a sampling of over 30 million memorable images contained in the CBS Entertainment Archives, dating back to when CBS first began broadcasting as a radio network in 1928.
Published in The WCP 4.2.13