Country Music Hall of Fame member Ralph Emery died Jan. 15 at a Nashville hospital. He was 88. Emery was a legendary disc jockey and television host who rose to fame during the late-night hours on Nashville's WSM, where he hosted and allowed many new artists a chance to be heard for the first time. Throughout his career, Emery hosted Pop! Goes The Country, Nashville Now, Ralph Emery Live, Ralph Emery’s Memories, and more. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and in 2010, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
Mr. Emery, who began his career at small radio stations and then moved into television as well, was probably best known for his work on the Nashville Network cable channel. From 1983 to 1993, he was host of the channel’s live talk-variety show “Nashville Now,” earning the title “the Johnny Carson of cable television” for his interviewing style. From 2007 to 2015, Mr. Emery hosted a weekly program on RFD-TV, a satellite and cable TV channel.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Ralph Emery’s impact in expanding country music’s audience is incalculable,” Kyle Young, chief executive of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement. “On radio and on television, he allowed fans to get to know the people behind the songs. Ralph was more a grand conversationalist than a calculated interviewer, and it was his conversations that revealed the humor and humanity of Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins and many more. Above all, he believed in music and in the people who make it.”
Walter Ralph Emery was born March 10, 1933, in McEwen, Tenn. After attending broadcasting school in Nashville, he worked at radio stations in Tennessee and Louisiana before signing on at Nashville’s WSM in 1957.
Mr. Emery hosted “Pop! Goes the Country,” a syndicated TV show, from 1974 through 1980. From 1981 to 1983, he was host of “Nashville Alive,” on cable station WTBS.
On the talk-variety show “Nashville Now,” Mr. Emery sat at a desk, interviewing country music stars and others, much like talk-show hosts. He published two memoirs and a book about country music.
Survivors include his wife, Joy; three sons; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Mr. Emery had a brief recording career in the early 1960s, but he later said, “I’m not a singer and that was one of the major problems.”
Artists mourn the loss of their friend and share memories of one of the
industry's true mentors, Ralph Emery:
“We are saddened this week at the losses of Dallas Frazier, Jerry Crutchfield, and now, Ralph Emery. Ralph was not only a legendary personality but a dear friend who meant so much to The Oak Ridge Boys’ career. If Ralph liked you … EVERYONE liked you! it would seem a lot of folks are going home these days so CELEBRATE LIFE FRIENDS. Life is God’s greatest gift this side of salvation. Goodbye Ralph, Jerry, and Dallas. See you at the House.” – Joe Bonsall, The Oak Ridge Boys
"The passing of my long-time friend Ralph Emery is devastating. His friendship to me and his contribution to country music will never be surpassed. It’s going to be tough not having him to turn to for advice. He was so kind to help guide me throughout my career as a friend and artist. Just knowing him made me a better person. My prayers go out to Joy and the family during this very sad time. R.I.P. my dear friend." - T.G. Sheppard
“It was great leaders like Ralph Emery who helped build careers for so many of us performers. May God Rest his soul.” – Janie Fricke
"Ralph Emery just crossed over the river Jordan. If it were not for his generosity, I wouldn't have had a career. He had me on his hugely popular show, "Nashville Now", 56 times. The importance of that exposure to millions of country music fans cannot be overstated. He was a dear friend and we shared many good times together. He helped countless artists and was a giant figure in country music history. Sheila and I loved him very, very much and will miss him deeply. What a guy!!" - T. Graham Brown
"My earliest memories of Ralph Emery are listening to him on WSM Radio. My dad would talk about when he was married to Grand Ole Opry Star Skeeter Davis, and how she would pop in the studio and talk on the air during his late-night shift. Hearing my father talk about this, and listening to Ralph years later on the radio, became a vivid picture in my mind. For many years, Ralph Emery was the heartbeat of country music. He hosted Nashville Now on The Nashville Network. That’s where I came to know him best. He featured the best of the best on his show. Also hosted a morning show in Nashville. His passing is a great loss to the country music community, and he will long be remembered as the host of Nashville for many many years.” - Rhonda Vincent
“I first met Ralph Emery in Nashville with my brother Lefty at WSM Radio and then got to know him better in the early 80s with my singing partner Shelly West on The Nashville Now TV show.” - David Frizzell
“Ralph Emery was truly a one of a kind and legend in country music. Many artists owe their start to him, myself included. I will never forget his kindness and prayers to his family.” - Johnny Lee
“Talk about someone who makes a profound effect on your life, not only by his words but by his actions as well. He was sneaky. He would sneak up and be there for you when you least expected it. He was a friend and will forever be missed.” - Lulu Roman, HEE HAW
"I was very saddened to hear of Ralph Emery’s passing. He did more to promote country music than anyone I know. First of all, his late night radio show on WSM was heard from coast-to-coast and border-to-border, but his 'Nashville Now' television show on TNN was the biggest boost country music ever had. People were buying satellite dishes all across North America just so they could watch Ralph’s TV show. All of us wanted to be on his show, and if you were lucky enough to be asked to host the show, which I did quite a few times, that was a big deal. He was my friend, he loved my family, and we all loved him. Gone but never forgotten. Thanks Ralph."
"One of the great men in the Nashville music business has passed away. Rest in peace, Ralph Emery. My good friend!"
"My old friend, and he was a friend, Ralph Emery, was a real piece of work, as we’d say in Texas. Not long after I left Texas and hit Nashville, Ralph took Dottie West’s advice / hint / order to put this upstart Gatlin boy on his TV show. Well, old Ralph did just that and that Gatlin boy's life was forever changed. A couple of days ago, Ralph found out just how much he meant to me and a jillion other upstarts like me. Thanks Ralph. See ya when I do. And my condolences to you, Joy. You were and still are the 'JOY' of Ralph’s life. Keep the faith."
"The 'Dean of Country Music Broadcasters,' the 'Johnny Carson of Cable.' These aren't accolades folks bestow on someone lightly. He helped introduce a whole galaxy of country artists to the world, myself included, and I will be forever grateful. His contribution to Nashville and beyond is nothing less than country music
history. So very saddened to hear the news, but what a life, Ralph Emery. We can all just consider that for a respectful
"Ralph Emery, in my opinion, should never be overlooked as playing a major part of the mid-'80s and '90s country music. He broke and placed many artists and put them on the road to stardom. We were fortunately one of those acts. If Ralph Emery was for you, the country music fans were as well. For that we are ever grateful. The nights at TNN’s 'Nashville Now' were always an honor. Rest in peace."
"Ralph Emery was already a radio and television icon when I first moved to Nashville. His wealth of knowledge, wisdom and great love for country music was immeasurable! I loved Ralph. He was the real deal! A perfect gentleman and the ultimate pro. It was so much fun and such a pleasure just to be in his presence and always an honor to appear on his radio and TV shows. It was an even greater honor to call him my friend."
"I think Mr. Emery was a national treasure and I was so blown away when I met him. He made country music history." -
"Ralph Emery was a walking encyclopedia of country music. He always seemed to be interested in the artist more than the celebrity and asked insightful questions. Our time together usually resulted in me asking him more questions than he would ask me. He will surely be missed."
"So sad to hear of Ralph Emery’s passing. I always looked forward to being interviewed by him. He was a legend and will be truly missed."
"When I met Ralph in 1991, we instantly became friends. Thank you for being a part of my career. Gonna miss you, my friend! God bless you and RIP.
"We admired Ralph Emery, the voice and face of country music for the last five decades. He was always a gentleman to us with great respect. We salute a true legend. We will miss you."
"Ralph Emery understood artists as human beings, and if Ralph liked you, chances are you were gonna make it in Nashville. I loved him on WSM, and every TV show he ever had on the air."
"Ralph was one of the best friends country music ever had. He loved the music but also brought to life the stories surrounding the singers and the songs through his interviews and TV programs. He really helped take our format into people’s living rooms and broaden the fan base with integrity for the art and humor."
“We always loved appearing on Ralph's TV show. One of my favorite memories of him was interviewing Toy Caldwell. He always wanted him to sing ‘This Ole Cowboy.’ The lyrics say, ‘This won’t be the first time this ole cowboy spent the night alone.’ Now, Ralph will never be alone. Today and for eternity. May God bless you!” -
"Sad to hear the news of the passing of country music legend Ralph Emery today. Ralph was kind enough to let Shenandoah play on not only his ‘Nashville Now’ show on TNN but also his early morning show on WSM TV. He was always kind to us and was a big supporter of our career. He was that way with a lot of new country music acts. We are sad to see him go. RIP Ralph. We will miss you."
"Ralph was like a father to me. When my dad died, he took me under his wing. He was hard on me when he needed to be and very praising of me when he thought I deserved it. He was a great friend and a lover of real artistry of any genre of music. If Ralph approved you, you were in and respected. I will miss my good friend and all the laughs. I love you, Ralph."
“The country music world has suffered a great loss today with the news of Ralph Emery’s passing. No one ever in our history promoted our music and country music artists as faithfully and generously for as long as Ralph. He made a huge difference in my career throughout the ‘90s, as well as every single artist who came on the scene. He truly crossed over country music into television and we all benefited greatly. People trusted Ralph’s opinion. Viewers were drawn to him and comfortable with him. He will remain an icon in our business. And even more importantly, he was a very nice, kind man. There will never be another. I’m quite confident he is with the greats from the past as we speak. He’s laughing and telling road stories. We will miss you, my friend.”
“Ralph Emery was, for decades, an encyclopedia of country music and an authentic voice for country music. He will be missed.”
"I am so devastated. He was such a important figure in our music. I am so blessed that I got to be one of his many friends. Rest in peace, my friend."