Roy Horton

Champion of country music

Roy Horton, music publisher: born Broad Top, Pennsylvania 5 November 1914; married (one son, one daughter); died Manchester, Connecticut 23 September 2003.

Roy Horton played a vital role in the popularisation of country music. As a longtime publishing executive he championed some of the genre's most important writers. Latterly he became a leading figure in the industry's most influential professional body, the Country Music Association.

Born in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, he looked set to spend his life working in the coalmines. The draw of music, however, was too strong and, having learned to play the upright bass, he and his guitar-playing brother Vaughn formed a hillbilly group that they took to New York in 1935. Known as the Pinetoppers and fronted by a pair of female vocalists billed as the Beaver Valley Sweethearts, the band appeared on local radio and cut several records, one of which, "Mockin' Bird Hill" became both a country and pop hit in 1950.

During the mid-Forties, Horton joined Ralph Peer's Southern Music Publishing Company, formed by Peer in 1928 to meet the demand for hillbilly songs. Starting with Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family, the organisation went on to sign major country writers such as Jimmie Davis, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe and Floyd Tillman, and it became Horton's job to promote them.

His long-cherished idea of creating an album featuring some of the best material from the Peer catalogue came to fruition in the 1990s. Believing that Merle Haggard was the ideal performer for such a project, he organised a series of recording dates in Nashville and at Haggard's Californian ranch resulting in The Peer Sessions, released in 2002. In addition to featuring fine renditions of standards such as "Peach Pickin' Time in Georgia" and "It Makes No Difference Now", the album boasts a unique version of "Hang on to the Memories" on which Haggard is joined by the centenarian country and gospel legend Jimmie Davis.

The Country Music Association was formed, in 1958, to preserve and to market the genre at a time when its existence faced a very real threat from rock'n'roll. Horton eventually became its chairman. During the early 1960s, he became one of the most vocal proponents of a Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, intended to celebrate the music's greatest figures whilst serving, through its displays of memorabilia, as a focus for Nashville tourism. The project was completed in 1967 and Horton cut the ribbon at its opening ceremony.

In 1982 he himself was finally inducted into the hall's ranks.

Paul Wadey