MTSU CENTER FOR POPULAR MUSIC ADDS TO COLLECTION
Family Donates Memorabilia of Country Radio Great Charlie Walker
Now the personal papers, records and memorabilia of a honky-tonking Texan with more than 50 years in entertainment are being catalogued at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, awaiting the moment when visitors can once again hear announcer Grant Turner’s classic Grand Ole Opry intro: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mister … Charlie … Walker!”
“This was seven months of work and a lot of therapy,” Walker’s widow, Connie, explained as she pointed to dozens of repurposed Tony Lama boot boxes filled with scrapbooks, political fliers, photos, fan mail, 78s, videos, original recording contracts and reel-to-reel tapes in the CPM’s climate-controlled, secure storage room in the university’s Bragg Mass Communication Building.
The Opry and Country Radio DJ Hall of Fame member with the distinctive baritone died in September 2008 in Hendersonville, Tenn., at age 81. In addition to his radio and music career, the strapping, Stetson-wearing Copeville, Texas, native tried his hand at acting, portraying the doomed Hawkshaw Hawkins in the 1985 film biography of Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dreams.”
Walker rose to popularity in Texas through his performances with Bill Boyd and his Cowboy Ramblers, then became a popular disc jockey. When he was stationed in Japan after World War II, Walker worked with the Armed Forces Radio Network. His band was one of the first American groups to perform live on the radio in Japan and helped popularize country music there.
He returned to Texas after the war, and in the early 1950s built a big following on Radio KMAC in San Antonio, where he also ran a club, The Barn. He continued to perform and record; his best-known record was 1958’s “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.” After a move to Nashville in 1967, Walker became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and enjoyed a career in music until his death.
“He kept just about everything,” Connie Walker continued, pointing to her late husband’s November 1952 contract with Commodore Records, complete with the original envelope.
“When a very close friend of mine, a librarian at Hunter College in New York City, found out I was looking for a place for Charlie’s stuff, she started contacting folks around the country for me. She said, ‘Hey, MTSU has an archive!’ and that was the first I’d heard of it. Charlie’s kids wanted to find something close to home.”
Mrs. Walker got in touch with CPM Librarian Grover Baker who told her, “Yes, this is just the sort of thing we want to have.” Baker and CPM Director Paul Wells trekked to Hendersonville to meet with Mrs. Walker and inspect the collection.
“We saw the scrapbooks she had assembled, and looked at what was in the boxes and said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ immediately,” Wells said. “This sort of collection is invaluable to researchers, particularly those looking into the business of country music.”
Baker and Wells returned two days later with a van to pick it all up, bring it to MTSU and begin poring—and exclaiming—over it.
“Another thing that sold me on MTSU was the audio restoration facilities (at the center),” Mrs. Walker added. “I wanted a place that could digitize the reel-to-reel tapes and archive them, too.”
The Center for Popular Music was established in 1985 as one of 16 Centers of Excellence across the Tennessee Board of Regents university system. The archive and research center is devoted to the study of American popular music from the prerevolutionary era to the present with a mission to promote research and scholarship in American vernacular music. Its collections support research in all musical genres and specialize in rock and roll and its roots, the various forms of vernacular religious music, and the music of Tennessee and the Southeast.
Cataloging the Walker collection will take quite some time. “Because of the extent of the collection, it will be many months before we have it fully processed and available for researchers,” Wells explained. “We’re making it a high-priority project and will have it accessible as soon as possible.”
Mrs. Walker also has hopes that her husband’s collection will prompt others to relay more information to his family.
“We’d love to find some eyewitness accounts of shows at his club in San Antonio, The Barn, in the ’50s during his radio days at KMAC,” she said. “He was the first DJ to have a five-hour country music show on the station.”
Her chief goal, though, is to make these treasures available to students and researchers.
“I’ll be helping the archivists out as I can, coming down and answering questions and helping make notes,” she explained. “We just want people to know it’s here and make sure the students know about it, so they can use it.”
For more information about the Center for Popular Music at MTSU and its collections, visit its Web site at http://popmusic.mtsu.edu. For MTSU news anytime, visit www.mtsunews.com.
IN BRIEF: The personal papers, records and memorabilia of a honky-tonking Texan with more than 50 years in entertainment are being catalogued at MTSU’s Center for Popular Music, thanks to a donation from his family. The strapping, Stetson-wearing, Charlie Walker, the consummate disc jockey turned country star with hits like “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down” and “Wild as a Wildcat,” died in September 2008, and his widow, Connie, chose the MTSU center as the repository for a collection that archivists are calling “ invaluable to researchers, particularly those looking into the business of country music.”
For MTSU news and information, visit www.mtsunews.com.
ATTENTION, MEDIA: For color JPEGs of Mrs. Connie Walker and the Center for Popular Music staff reviewing the Charlie Walker Collection, Charlie Walker, and the Center for Popular Music logo, please contact Gina E. Fann in the Office of News and Public Affairs via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 615-898-5385.