Jerry Whitehurst, Legendary Country Musician Featured on ‘Hee Haw,’ Dead at 84

by Suzanne Halliburton
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Jerry Whitehurst, a pianist featured on numerous shows including Hee Haw, died earlier this week. He was 84.

Whitehurst was a long-time member of the Grand Ole Opry staff band and he did numerous projects with close friend, Ralph Emery, the host of Nashville Now. In fact, Whitehurst wrote the theme song for Nashville Now, the country music-themed evening talk show that ran from 1983-93.

The Country Music Hall of Fame honored Whitehurst this week, sharing a throwback photo of the talented musician. The Hall of Fame’s social media account posted: “Jerry Whitehurst, longtime pianist for “Hee Haw,” Ralph Emery’s “Nashville Now,” and the Grand Ole Opry staff band, died at the age of eighty-four on October 30. He was so in demand that by the late 1980s he was doing about 500 TV episodes per year.”

Jerry Whitehurst Worked In Studio with Country Music Greats

Jerry Whitehurst also worked in the studio with a who’s who of country music artists. The list of greats included Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Johnny Paycheck, Ernest Tubb and Porter Wagoner.

But Jerry Whitehurst did his most prominent work on TV. The Country Music Hall of Fame’s reference to 500 episodes a year wasn’t an exaggeration. He played the piano and sometimes worked as a music director for TV shows like the Grand Ole OpryHee HawPop Goes the Country, Bobby Lord Show and Parton’s variety show, Dolly.

Nashville’s WSMV said Whitehurst got his start in country music when he played part-time as part of the Grand Ole Opry’s backing band. That was in the early 1960s. He worked at a trucking firm to pay the bills, then fed his musical soul at the Opry. Whitehurst grew up in Nashville and never needed to leave his beloved city for his music career.

He then got a job to play piano for Nashville and TV station WSM. But he kept his weekend job playing in the Opry backing band.

Whitehurst was the Hee Haw pianist when the comedy variety show premiered in 1969. And by the 1980s, he was such a noted musician that the Academy of Country Music awarded Whitehurst’s Nashville Now group Non-Touring Band of the Year from 1985 to 1989.

“I had much rather do live performances,” Jerry Whitehurst said in an interview with the Nashville Banner while he was working with Nashville Now.

“That’s why I enjoy our daily TV shows so much. There’s a feeling a musician gets from a live audience that you don’t find while taping a show.”

Friends and family will honor the memory of Jerry Whitehurst this Friday at a funeral in Nashville. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, three stepchildren, a dozen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.