Anita Kerr, Country Music Legend, Dead at 94

by Blake Ells
Anita Kerr

Anita Kerr has died. The country music star was born in Memphis, Tenn. on October 31, 1927 as Anita Jean Grilli and she married Al Kerr in 1947. The couple moved to Nashville so that she could pursue a career as a disc jockey. That’s when she caught the attention of the folks at WSM, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Her early recording sessions included folks like Eddy Arnold, Red Foley and Ernest Tubb,

The Anita Kerr Singers contributed background vocals to 50s and 60s records from folks like Patsy Cline, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Floyd Cramer, Willie Nelson and others. With Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley, she was one of the originators of the “Nashville Sound,” a combination of country music and pop that had strings and lush background vocals. That’s when country really moved to another level.

The Anita Kerr Singers performed on records by Perry Como, Brenda Lee, Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Roy Orbison and others. They won two GRAMMYs in 1965 for best performance by a vocal group for “We Dig Mancini” and best gospel or religious recording for Southland Favorites. They also won a GRAMMY in 1966 for best performance by a vocal group for “A Man and a Woman.”

Anita Kerr Dies at 94

She remarried in 1965. Anita Kerr married Alex Grob in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles. She formed a new version of the Anita Kerr Singers out there, and she focused on the covers. She became the choral director of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. In 1970, they moved to Switzerland. And there, she formed another version of the Anita Kerr Singers. This time, she was largely focusing on gospel music. Throughout it all, her contribution to the “Nashville Sound” was her biggest achievement.

“Anita Kerr helped Nashville achieve world class stature as a music center through her roles as a gifted arranger, producer and leader of the lush vocal quartet the Anita Kerr Singers,” said Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young in a statement. “At a time when women rarely led recording sessions, she worked alongside key producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley and was intimately involved in shaping the hits of Eddy Arnold, Skeeter Davis, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves and many more that gave the world the enormously popular Nashville Sound. Her voice and her creativity expanded the artistic and commercial possibilities for country music.”

Anita Kerr’s daughter, Kelley Kerr confirmed the news on social media.

“Such sad news and what a great loss for the music industry. Anita was a legend in her time, but first and foremost she was my mother. May you rest in peace. I will forever miss you but I am comforted in knowing that you are now singing with Angels. You are forever in my heart.”