Jimmy Fortune, who toured with The Statler Brothers for 21 years, has a chance to break Bob Campbell and The Coachmen’s attendance record of 510 set at The Historic Masonic Theatre in 1994.
Fortune will perform on stage at The Historic Masonic Theatre tonight, Fri., Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m., and 407 seats had been reserved by Wed., Dec. 8, two days prior to the show.
The late Bob Campbell was the first vocalist to replace Lew DeWitt, The Statler Brothers’ main songwriter, after DeWitt was sidelined by Crohn’s disease while on tour with The Statler Brothers, the opening act for Johnny Cash.
Campbell completed the tour with The Statler Brothers as DeWitt’s temporary replacement, and he often recalled singing at Soldier Field in Chicago for 60,000 fans who attended the Johnny Cash Show.
The original Statler Brothers that began in 1955 featured Joe McDorman as the lead vocalist, the late Harold Reid, bass; Phil Balsley, baritone; and DeWitt, tenor.
McDorman decided to leave the group and attend college in 1960, and Don Reid, Harold’s younger brother, replaced him as the lead vocalist.
The Statler Brothers retired in 2002 after performing 14 consecutive “Happy Birthday USA” concerts on the Fourth of July at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton where both Phil and Don live in retirement. Harold, who also retired in Staunton, passed away in 2020.
The group that took their name, The Statler Brothers, from the name on a tissue box named Statler, rose to country music fame with a string of hit songs and “The Statler Brothers Show,” one of the most popular TV shows that enjoyed a seven-year run, 1991-1998, on the Nashville Network, often referred to as TNN.
Campbell and DeWitt were best friends who grew up only a block apart. Campbell lived on Betsy Bell Drive in Staunton, and he and DeWitt remained close friends for life.
Campbell was fond of telling the story about DeWitt calling him on the telephone and requesting that he come over to listen to a new song that he had written.
After listening to DeWitt’s “Flowers on the Wall,” which became a No. 1 hit for The Statler Brothers, Campbell quipped, “Lew, that’s about the craziest song I’ve ever heard.”
Campbell, a vocalist and songwriter, would then add, “That just goes to show how much I knew about songwriting back then.”
On Jan. 28, 1982, Fortune became the second temporary replacement for DeWitt who was unable to return to perform with The Statler Brothers and eventually died from complications from Crohn’s disease in 1990.
Fortune was hired as his full-time replacement in Aug. of 1982, and he wasted no time in writing “Elizabeth,” the song that became a signature song of The Statler Brothers and a No. 1 hit on Billboard.
Campbell became a regular performer at the Historic Stonewall Theatre and served as the director of the Virginia Junior Opry and The Opry of the Virginias for Appalfolks of America Association (AAA), owner of the Historic Stonewall Theatre that the Town of Clifton Forge renamed The Historic Masonic Theatre after AAA donated the theatre to the Town of Clifton Forge in 2003.
If Fortune breaks the 510 attendance record Bob Campbell and the Coachmen set in 1994, the irony will be rich in that the only two vocalists who performed as replacement vocalists for DeWitt will have filled the most seats at the theatre that was built in 1905.
Fortune, unlike Campbell, became the permanent replacement for DeWitt, and for a time, Campbell directed a youth country music show at the Historic Stonewall Theatre titled The Lew DeWitt Junior Opry, and DeWitt’s widow was honored when she attended one of the performances.
Fortune excelled as one of The Statler Brothers, filling DeWitt’s shoes as the group’s main songwriter. He wrote a series of hits besides “Elizabeth.” Some of them are “My Only Love,” from 1984’s “Atlanta Blue;” and “Too Much on My Heart,” from “Pardners in Rhyme.”
In 1986, Fortune’s song, “Forever” from the “Four for the Show” charted in the Top 10 on Billboard.
In 1988, he co-wrote a Top 10 hit, “More Than a Name on a Wall.”
Fortune has toured in all 50 states and in some Canadian Provinces, and he has performed for two Presidents at the White House, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
On one of the late Elizabeth Taylor’s birthdays, Fortune sang “Elizabeth” to her at her party.
Fortune, who has three solo albums to his credit, currently resides in Nashville where he continues to write songs and record for Gaither Records between tours.
On 0ct. 26, 2002, he was inducted into the Virginia Music Hall of Fame, and on Oct. 29, 2007, he became a member of the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame.
The Country Music Association (CMA) inducted him into its Hall of Fame on June 29, 2008.
For a list of Fortune’s musical accomplishments as a solo artist since 2002, readers may visit www.historicmasonictheatre.com where tickets can be purchased for “The Jimmy Fortune Show.”