Walter David "D" Kilpatrick, a producer, music executive and
Grand Ole Opry manager who recorded
Johnny Horton and Jimmy Dean and brought Porter Wagoner
and the Everly Brothers to the Opry, died Wednesday afternoon at his home in Franklin.
Mr. Kilpatrick was 88, and had battled lung cancer.
"He gave the Opry a lot of really sincere, professional attention at a time when it needed
a steady hand," said Craig Havighurst, who interviewed Mr. Kilpatrick during the writing
of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. "He was there at
the Opry during a tumultuous stretch."
Born in Charlotte, N.C., on July 18, 1919, Mr. Kilpatrick served as a Marine and
then made his way into the music industry. According to The Encyclopedia of Country Music,
he worked in sales with Capitol Records' distributorship in Charlotte before moving to
Atlanta to manage a Capitol branch. In 1950, Mr. Kilpatrick moved here and became
the city's first salaried country music producer, and recorded major artists, including
Hank Thompson and Tex Ritter.
Upon Mr. Kilpatrick's move to Mercury Records in 1951, he worked with artists such as
Johnny Horton, Benny Martin, Carl Story and Bill Carlisle.
In 1956, at a time when a new type of music called rock 'n' roll was damaging country
music's popularity, Mr. Kilpatrick became manager of the Grand Ole Opry. A powerhouse
during the 1940s and early 1950s, the Opry had struggled to sell tickets in the 1950s
in the wake of Elvis Presley's ascendance. With teens turning to rock,
Mr. Kilpatrick felt it necessary to seek young, vital performers to play the Opry.
"He was there when rock 'n' roll was eating their lunch, and he was aware of how old
the core Opry cadre was," Havighurst said. "He said, 'We've got to get some dynamic
new people in here.' "
Thus, Mr. Kilpatrick invited the Everly Brothers, Porter Wagoner and others to become part
of the Opry family. Mr. Kilpatrick also helped found the Country Music Association in
1958, seeking to find ways to recover and ultimately extend country's popularity.
With Mr. Kilpatrick's death, Mac Wiseman and Charlie Lamb are the only surviving members of the inaugural CMA board of directors.
Mr. Kilpatrick left the Opry in 1959, and in his new position at the Acuff-Rose Artists
Corporation he worked with Opry stars and with pop acts such as Roy Orbison. Later,
he worked at Warner Bros. and again at Mercury.
In the late 1960s, he formed Brentwood-based Athena Records with producer and arranger
Rick Powell, and though Mr. Kilpatrick's original vision was to foster singer-songwriters,
the label's roster wound up showing a different side of Nashville music.
Athena's first release, in 1968, was an album by the all-female rock band
The Feminine Complex. Soon thereafter came two collections of electronic music.
Visitation will take place at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home, 3009 Columbia Ave.,
Franklin, from 5-8 p.m. today. A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday
at the funeral home, with visitation beginning at 10 a.m. A private burial will follow.
Surviving family members include: wife, Mary Jane Kilpatrick; son, W. David Kilpatrick Jr.
and wife Cindy, of Brentwood; daughter, Judith K. Tucker, of Charlotte, N.C.;
and grandchildren Darby Tucker of Folly Beach, S.C., and Carter Kilpatrick and Cannon
Kilpatrick, of Brentwood; and sister, Ruby Brooks, of Charlotte, N.C.
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