Although “Whispering Bill” Anderson is not associated to Western Swing as the stars that I have been writing about such as Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Spade Cooley and others over the past several years, it seems about time to expand my ‘nearsighted’ imagery and tell the stories of all the greats in The Music of the West, or Western Music, or as the term implies Country Music, the implication being that as opposed to Pop, Jazz, Classical, or whatever, country means Cowboy songs, Range songs, the kind of music Jimmy Rodgers fathered in the late ‘20s and the stuff that came out of the ‘Grand Ol’ Opry’ since 1924. Well, it is different. Country Music has a story, the rest have orchestration and singers. So let’s start with a great story teller, composer, and singer.
Bill Anderson ‘if you want to get attention just whisper’ has been using that philosophy for almost fifty years to capture the attention of millions of country music fans around the world, en route to becoming a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and one of the most popular, most enduring entertainers of our time.
“Whispering Bill”, a nickname was hung on him years ago as a result of his breathy voice and his warm, soft approach to singing a country song. His credentials, however, shout his prominence: One of the most awarded songwriters in the history of country music, a million-selling recording artist many times over, television game show host, network soap opera star, spokesman for a nationwide restaurant chain, and a consummate onstage performer.
Bill Anderson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, but spent most of his growing-up years around Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism, having worked his way through college as a disc jockey on nearby radio stations. It was while he was still in school that he began performing and writing songs. At the age of nineteen he composed the country classic, “City Lights,” my favorite, and began rapidly carving his place in musical history.
He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, secured a recording contract with Decca Records, and began turning out hit after hit with songs like “Po’Folks,” “Mama Sang A Song,” “The Tips Of My Fingers,” “8X10,” and the unforgettable country and pop smash, “Still.” His compositions were recorded by such diverse musical talents as Ray Price, Porter Wagoner, James Brown, Debbie Reynolds, Ivory Joe Hunter, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Lawrence Welk, Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Walter Brennan and many others.
Bill Anderson has been voted Songwriter Of The Year six times, Male Vocalist Of The Year, half of the Duet Of The Year with both Jan Howard and Mary Lou Turner, has hosted and starred in the Country Music Television Series Of The Year, seen his band voted Band Of The Year, and in 1975 was voted membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Ten years later, the State of Georgia honored him by choosing him as only the 7th living performer inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In 1993, he was made a member of the Georgia Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame. In 1994, South Carolina inducted him into their Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. And in 2001, he received the ultimate honor, membership in Nashville’s prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame.
An entertainer in every sense of the word, Bill Anderson was the first country artist to host a network game show, starring on ABC-TV's, "The Better Sex." He also appeared for three years on ABC's Daytime soap opera, "One Life To Live."
For six years he hosted a country music game show on The Nashville Network called, “Fandango,” later an interview show called “Opry Backstage,” and somehow found time to be co-producer of another TNN Show called, “You Can Be A Star.” In addition, Bill has appeared frequently as a guest star on television’s top variety and game shows, including The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Match Game, Family Feud, Hee Haw and others. He currently hosts "Bill Anderson Visits With The Legends" on XM satellite radio.
Bill Anderson’s autobiography, “Whisperin’ Bill,” was published by Longstreet Press in 1989 and relates the fascinating details of his life and lengthy career in show business. The book, which Bill personally wrote over a period of three years, made bestseller lists all across the south. Bill’s second book, a humorous look at the music business titled, “I Hope You’re Living As High On The Hog As The Pig You Turned Out To Be,” was published in 1993 and is currently in it’s fourth printing. His most recent literary effort is "Letters To My Fans - Volume One."
Bill Anderson continues to paint a broad stroke across the Nashville music scene. He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1961 and performs there regularly. He continues to record and made a video.
Despite his hectic schedule and the demands of his multi-faceted business enterprises, Bill has made a renewed commitment to his first love – songwriting. “I feel like I’ve come full-circle,” he smiles, "because songwriting is what got me to Nashville in the first place.” In 1995, Billboard magazine named four Bill Anderson compositions – “City Lights,” “Once A Day,” “Still,” and “Mama Sang A Song” – among the Top 20 Country Songs of the past 35-years. No other songwriter had as many songs listed.
Anderson closed out the 20th century with a pair of #1 hits, “Wish You Were Here,” by Mark Wills and the Grammy nominated “Two Teardrops” by Steve Wariner. His song, “Too Country,” recorded by Brad Paisley along with Anderson, Buck Owens and George Jones, won CMA Vocal Event Of The Year honors for 2001. The following year saw Kenny Chesney soar with his version of the Anderson-Dean Dillon masterpiece, “A Lot Of Things Different.”
But in a period of twenty-five months between November, 2005, and December, 2007, Anderson enjoyed perhaps the most fertile period of his songwriting life. He won CMA Song of the Year honors for his and Jon Randall’s poignant ballad, “Whiskey Lullaby," recorded by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association for co-writing with Tia Sillers the Country/Gospel Recorded Song of the Year, "Jonah, Job, and Moses," sung by the Oak Ridge Boys, and his first ACM Song of the Year Award for "Give It Away," recorded by George Strait and written with Buddy Cannon and Jamey Johnson. "Give It Away" went on to win the CMA Song of the Year as well as affording Anderson his fourth Grammy nomination.
In 2002, Broadcast Music, Inc. named Anderson its first country music songwriting Icon, placing him alongside R&B legends Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and James Brown as the only recipients of that prestigious award. In 2008, the Academy of Country Music honored him with their inaugural Poets Award.
On the personal side, Bill lives on Old Hickory Lake outside Nashville where he spends as much time as possible with his three children and seven grandchildren.
Leo C. Helmer for Pencilstubs.com, November 2010, with permission of Bill Anderson.
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