Although they shared the distinction of being members of one of the most popular vocal harmony groups in music history for over forty years, only two of the Statler Brothers quartet are actually brothers – and yet, both are not surnamed Statler. Originally formed in Staunton, Virginia as a church trio in 1955, the group is composed of Harold Reid who sings bass, baritone Phil Balsley and Jimmy Fortune who replaced tenor Lew DeWitt who passed away in 1990 of Crohn’s Disease. In 1960, Harold’s younger brother, Don joined in as lead vocalist to form the quartet known as the Kingsmen which sang a variety of gospel, country and pop music. When the quartet later learned of the existence of another gospel music group in North Carolina that goes by the same name, they decided to bill themselves as the Statler Brothers—borrowed from a brand of tissue paper product called Statler Tissues.
A turning point in the budding career of the Statler Brothers occurred in 1964 when they joined the road show of Johnny Cash as a warm act. Staying with the ABC network TV show of Cash during the next 8 years, the quartet steadily built up a name as a hitmaker. Starting with their No. 2 country hit “Flowers on the Wall,” which crossed over to the No. 4 spot on the pop chart, the group won the 1965 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance Group and another Grammy for Best New Country and Western Music Artist Award during the same year.
The quartet became a mainstay on TNN during the 80s, which regularly featured their videos. The following decade, they hosted the “Statler Brothers Show” which became the premier rated program over TNN and achieved the distinction of being the highest rated episode of the network at that time. Their ability to include some comedy and parody into their musical acts contributed to their popularity and appeal earning them nominations not only for their singing talent but for their comedic ability as well.
Aside from composing their own songs, the Statler Brothers also wrote and produced their TNN series. Their combined talents, popular appeal and hands-on management of their musical career made them the most successful singing group in musical history. In 1970, they staged their first Fourth of July concert and celebration in their Staunton hometown. Dubbed “Happy Birthday U.S.A., the yearly event, which continued up to 1995, featured country artists and performers that drew hundreds of thousands of crowds with proceeds benefiting local charities. They have also participated in USO shows to honor and raise funds for the benefit of veterans.
After four decades, the Statler Brothers have become an institution in the American music industry having released more than 60 albums of which 20 were certified gold and platinums, sold more than 15 million records and performed live before millions of people including 4 sitting U.S. Presidents. They also have the distinction of being the most awarded singing group in music history with more than 500 honors and awards–to include 48 Music City News Awards, 32 Song-writing Awards, 9 Country Music Awards and 3 Grammys. To cap these achievements, the Statler Brothers was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2008.