CLIFTON FORGE–Jimmy Fortune, the last active performer of The Statler Brothers, drew 425 to The Historic Masonic Theatre where he was inducted into The Virginia Opry, the Virginia Commonwealth’s official Opry, on Fri., Dec. 9.
“The Jimmy Fortune Christmas Show” featured Fortune’s renditions of traditional Christmas songs, some of his most famous country music hits that he wrote for The Statler Brothers and some of his new songs that he announced will soon be recorded on a new album that will be released on Gaither Music label.
Fortune joked that his mother told him that unless his CDs were sold in Cracker Barrel that he will not have made it big in the music field, and Fortune said that his new CDs will be marketed by Cracker Barrel, a statement which drew much laughter from the audience.
An enthusiastic audience gave Fortune a standing ovation, and he performed two encore songs before leaving the stage for a meet-and-greet autograph signing session in The Masonic Theatre’s underground where a long line of concert goers had formed.
During the 21 years that Fortune toured as one of the four Statler Brothers, the most awarded country music group in history, he established himself as the group’s leading songwriter.
From the stage, he shared with his audience the circumstances that led him to write “Elizabeth,” the first song that he wrote for The Statler Brothers.
Shortly after he was hired in Aug. of 1982, as a fulltime vocalist to fill Lew DeWitt’s position as the fourth Statler Brother, Fortune approached Harold Reid, the spokesman and bass singer for The Statler Brothers, and asked him if the group would record a song if he wrote one.
Reid promised him the quartet would record it providing it was “…good enough.”
Fortune, who plays rhythm guitar, noted that he went to his room that night and penned, “Elizabeth,” the song that became a No. 1 hit for The Statler Brothers, and he quipped that while The Statler Brothers were performing in Arizona, Elizabeth Taylor was filming a movie nearby where the group was performing.
As it turned out, The Statler Brothers were invited on set to sing “Elizabeth” to Taylor on her birthday. After The Statler Brothers sang to Taylor, Harold Reid, the older brother of Don Reid, the lead singer, said to Taylor, “We wrote the song just for you!”
Such recollections by Fortune drew much laughter from the audience.
Fortune, a tenor, has retained his vocal range that enables him to reach high notes and sustain them for impressive periods of time.
His folksy way of spinning stories about his childhood in Nelson County kept his audience entertained between his renditions of songs.
One of his stories revealed that he found his first guitar in a garbage dump and took the tiny guitar home to fix it the best he could, and he shared his disappointment that followed because of his unfilled Christmas wish each year to receive a new guitar.
He noted that when his father finally bought him a six string guitar for Christmas, he told his father that he was going to make his living playing music.
Fortune then shared his father’s response, “Son, you’ll never make a living playing music. That’s why they call it playing.”
Such revelations served to endear Fortune to his audience and establish rapport.
From time to time during the show, he would recognize special people in the audience, calling a long-time married couple to come to the stage to dance while the group played.
At another juncture, Fortune recognized a couple in the upper box seats who were attending a Jimmy Fortune concert for the 72nd time, living proof that Fortune has proven his father wrong about making a living playing music.
Fortune sang “More Than a Name on a Wall,” a hit song that he wrote about a mother visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. to find her son’s name, and he asked all veterans present to stand for recognition.
Also, he invited the audience to stand and sing with him “God Bless America,” and the audience joined in singing as the concert neared its end.
During intermission just prior to his second set, Executive Director of The Historic Masonic Theatre Justin Reiter and Executive Director of The Virginia Opry Justin Peery teamed up to induct Fortune into The Virginia Opry by presenting him with his official membership certificate.
Inducted into the Virginia Opry with Fortune were the members of his band, Billy James, bass guitar; Ivy Phillips, fiddle; and Stuie French, lead guitar.
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