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The Statler Brothers: America’s Poets of the 1960s

The Statler Brothers

Dubbed as America’s Poets by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, The Statler Brothers have been one of country music’s most successful vocal harmony groups. Though they may not have been connected by blood, their bond was really that of brothers, spanning 47 years of music, stage performances, and tours. 

And together, they shared the success earning multiple awards from the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association, and the Grammy Awards. They were undeniably one of the biggest hits of the 1960s. 

How was The Statler Brothers formed?

The Statler Brothers started in 1955, originally performing gospel music with lead vocalist Joe McDorman, bass Harold Reid, baritone Phil Balsley, and tenor Lew DeWitt. The group was formed in their home base in Staunton, Virginia, and they called themselves The Four Star Quartet. Five years later, McDorman signed off and Reid’s younger brother Don took the reins as lead vocals. Together, they performed under the name the Kingsmen. 

But since there were other groups called the Kingsmen, they decided to change theirs and impulsively chose Statler, a brand of tissue. Don Reid even jokingly said that they could be as easily known as the Kleenex Brothers. Despite the funny origin of their name, together with their talent, it definitely made them stand out. 

Aside from their name, the quartet also switched gears from gospel to country when they met Johnny Cash. They initially opened for his local concert and were invited by Cash to join their tour after their impressive performance. After that, they signed with Columbia, where they scored their first and largest country and pop hit “Flowers on the Wall” credited to DeWitt. And that was the start of their rolling success. 

Get To Know The Statler Brothers’ Career: Hits, Achievements, and Awards

The Statler Brothers enjoyed consistent success, drawing tens of thousands of fans and releasing hits after hits. They were definitely one of the staple names in country music at the time. 

After releasing their hit debut single, they continued to chart in the Top 10 with their singles “Ruthless” and “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too.” And then the quartet signed with Mercury Records in 1969, and their first single for the label “Bed of Rose’s” earned them another Top 10 hit. And throughout the ‘70s, the group remained at the top of their game with their nostalgic singles like “Do You Remember These,” “The Class of ‘57,” “Carry Me Back,” and “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott.” And of course, they never forgot their gospel roots and went on to record their 1975 joint release Holy Bible/Old Testament and Holy Bible/New Testament

In 1982, DeWitt was forced to leave the group due to Crohn’s disease (he died in 1990). So, the remaining Statler Brothers tapped Jimmy Fortune to be his successor. Fittingly as his last name, Fortune earned the group their second number one hit with “Elizabeth” – a song paid in homage to actress Elizabeth Taylor – then their third with “My Only Love” and their fourth with “Too Much on My Heart.” They continued to be a popular touring act until the ‘90s and also hosted a cable TV show, The Statler Brothers Show, for seven seasons. 

Throughout their career, they won 3 Grammy awards, including 1965 Best Contemporary (R&R) Performance – Group (Vocal or Instrumental) for “Flowers on the Wall.” And they also won CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year nine times from 1972 to 1984. They were inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2008. 

Full Circle: The End of the Journey

After almost 40 years, the Statler Brothers announced that they were retiring from touring in 2002. They played their last concert on October 26 at the 10,000-seat Salem Civic Center in Virginia, which was close enough to Staunton, where they first started. According to Don Reid, they knew that they wouldn’t last forever, and so they made the conscious decision to stop on their own terms instead of waiting for the time that they had to. 

Although the group no longer toured, they still remained active, releasing a handful of albums until 2006, including a gospel one titled Amen

The Reid brothers, along with Balsley, went back to Staunton while Fortune pursued a solo career in Nashville. But on April 24, 2020, the bass singer of the long-running vocal quartet The Statler Brothers Harold Reid died after enduring a long battle with kidney failure. He was 80. 

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