The country music community is mourning the loss of Norro Wilson, one of the format’s most successful writers and producers. The Scottsville, Kentucky native passed away Thursday (June 8) at the age of 79 after a recent stay in hospice care.
There wasn’t a venue in the country scene that Wilson didn’t have success in. One of country’s most colorful characters, Wilson enjoyed ten singles on the Billboard charts between 1969 and 1977, and enjoyed a successful career as a song plugger and publisher. He also produced many of the genre’s top artists of all time, including works for George Jones, Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, and Charley Pride.
However, it was as a songwriter that Wilson earned his biggest success. A Grammy-winning tunesmith, he earned induction into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame in 1996. His list of hit singles reads like a Greatest Hits album of the 1970s and 1980s. Songs such as George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You),” Tammy Wynette’s “He Loves Me All The Way,” and Charley Pride’s “Never Been So Loved (In All My Life),” all rank among his best-known work, but it was a pair of Charlie Rich classics that confirmed Wilson’s greatest success: 1973’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” a song that topped the Country, Pop, and AC charts, and “A Very Special Love Song” from 1974, which netted him a Grammy Award.
Wilson’s first foray into the music business was as a Gospel singer. He performed in the group The Southlanders, and began to record more often as a solo artist in the late 1960s. In 1969, Wilson made his chart debut with “Only You,” which peaked at No. 68. He did connect with the Country Top 40 three times as a performer, with 1970’s “Do It To Someone You Love” ranking as his biggest success with a No. 20 peak. Incidentally, that led to his being included in the very first New Faces Show that same year. The program continues to be a prestigious part of the yearly Country Radio Seminar.
In the 1980s, Wilson stayed busy producing records, and working in the A&R department at RCA. It was there that he began to work with a newcomer — also from Kentucky — named Keith Whitley. Wilson steered the launch of his country career with the production duties of 1984’s A Hard Act To Follow. He also worked with artists such as Sammy Kershaw in the 1990s. He was one of two producers of Shania Twain’s 1993 debut disc for Mercury, and also was partly responsible for the rise of Kenny Chesney’s career, working in tandem with fellow producer Buddy Cannon on a trio of albums beginning with 1997’s I Will Stand.
In addition to his induction into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, he also was a 2008 inductee into the Kentucky Music Hall Of Fame. Known for his keen sense for spotting musical talent in artists and writers as well as for his infectious sense of humor, Wilson leaves a void that nobody will be able to fill.
Funeral arrangements are pending.