Gordon Stoker, tenor singer for Country Music Hall of Fame vocal group the Jordanaires, died Wednesday morning, March 27, 2013, at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee. He was 88.
Born August 3, 1924, Stoker was a native of Gleason, Tennessee, where he grew up in a musical family. By age eight he was playing piano in church, and he soon played at singing conventions in Western Tennessee and Kentucky. At one, he impressed John Daniel of the professional John Daniel Quartet, who invited Stoker to become the quartet's pianist when he finished high school.
Gordon had some time away from the Daniel Quartet, but rejoined them soon after. About a year later, opportunity knocked when the Jordanaires came to town. In a move that would propel him into fame unforeseeable at the time, Gordon auditioned successfully to become the new pianist for the quartet.
FROM THE JORDANAIRES WEBSITE, GORDON STOKER BIO:
Gordon had been born on August 3, 1924 "right on the main drag in Gleason" in the telephone office building where his family made their home, as his mother was one of two operators for the telephone system and his father was the repairman.
"My mother was the night time operator," Gordon says, a grin spreading across his face as he recalls, "You couldn't make a phone call after 9:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m."
Incoming phone calls were completed by means of a "switchboard" that connected the lines between caller and receiver. Calls made after the hour deemed unacceptably late for phone calls were either unanswered or met with the announcement, "It's after 9:00 p.m."
"Maybe if it was somebody she knew, she would go ahead and connect them," admits Gordon, whose collection of memorabilia also includes an old crank telephone once worked on by his father.
As a pianist, Gordon's talent was challenged by the skills of another piano player who frequented the local singing conventions: "She added stuff to her music," Gordon says in tones that still reflect the awe that inspired him to go home and duplicate her efforts, practicing tirelessly beyond the limitations of his education.
His endeavors paid off for the trio whose fame continued to grow.
"We had a hot trio, believe me," recalls Gordon, declaring, "We'd stop the show anywhere we'd go!" Vocalists for the trio were the Clement children: Gloria, age 8; Rachel, 12, and Fred, Jr., who was 10 years old. At age 12, on the piano, Gordon was red hot - so hot that a performance at the Snead Grove Picnic garnered the attention of Mr. John Daniel of the immensely popular John Daniel Quartet, just one of many country acts of the late 1930's that were brought to the picnic from the WSM radio station and the Grand Ole Opry.
He grins as he recalls his first step toward fame: "John Daniel, manager of the group, heard me play, and said, 'Son, how old are you?'"
After confessing he was only 12 years old, he recalls, Mr. Daniel vowed, "I want to bring you to Nashville; I'm going to make a star out of you!"
Hugh Gordon was already a star in West Tennessee, where early morning radio shows on WTJS in Jackson made "The Clement Trio" a household name. He chuckles as he relates a phone call he received, about two years ago, from a "lady from McKenzie" who was passing through Nashville and called to ask if he was the same Hugh Gordon Stoker who once played for the Clement Trio.
She fondly recalled - some 60 years later - the memorable way Mr. Clement introduced his role with the group: "He's not a banker, he's not a broker, he's just the world's greatest piano player, Hugh Gordon Stoker!"
"Lot of people who knew me years ago still call me Hugh Gordon," he admits, counting Minnie Pearl among that group after becoming one of the Grand Ole Opry's youngest performers at the age of 15 when, true to his word, John Daniel called a week after his graduation from high school and invited him to join the quartet.
Clement Trio fans continued to enjoy Gordon's skills through the 50,000 watt-powerful WSM radio station that reached every morning into homes as far away from Nashville as Carroll and Weakley counties. Hugh Gordon was a great success, but World War II was raging, and Uncle Sam was calling his children from every walk of life to partake in the battle against evil that threatened the very freedom Gordon so amply enjoyed. In 1943, he was drafted into the United States Air Force.