Bill Anderson of the Grand Ole Opry is the popular host of the television talk show Opry Backstage, as well as a singer and songwriter of some of the finest sounds in modern country music. As a musician in the classic Nashville tradition, Anderson never lost sight of contemporary trends. It is that trait that has kept him in the public spotlight for more than 40 years.
Anderson was born James William Anderson III on November 1, 1937, in Columbia, South Carolina, but was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where he developed a liking for country music as a child. His earliest country music idols included classic stars like Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, whom he tried to emulate musically. He assembled his first band while he was still a teenager in high school. Although his career aspirations veered toward major league baseball in those days, he enjoyed performing on local radio. In time, Anderson developed his own personal singing style; it was a softly spoken, breathy sound that earned him the nickname of "Whispering Bill."
As a college student at the University of Georgia in Athens, Anderson worked as a disc jockey at WGAU to help finance his education. To the dismay of both the station management and the collegiate listening audience, he played country music. Even the songs of classic artists like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins raised eyebrows in the academic environment, a fact that brought dismay to the country music-minded Anderson. Rather than conform to a format that displeased him, he switched jobs and went to work at a radio station in nearby Commerce, where the listening public appreciated the country music bill of fare. As Anderson settled into the disc jockey booth in Commerce, he began a slow evolution into a one-person dynamo. He continued his journalism curriculum in college, played records on the radio, and performed around town as a musician. The high-energy lifestyle that he espoused permeated his on-air personality as a disc jockey. The sound booth at WJJC resonated with Anderson's rapid-fire, fast-talking style whenever he sat at the transmitter. More importantly, Anderson, with all his energy, exhibited a warm and easy nature even in his early years on radio. This approachable quality came naturally to Anderson, and his unique charisma earned him a loyal following.
By age 19, Anderson was putting his thoughts and emotions on paper as a songwriter. He penned what became his first major hit, "City Lights," which he composed from the rooftop of Hotel Andrew Jackson, an inspirational vantage point in Commerce. Initially, Anderson recorded his own version of the song, although that rendition met with very limited success. When country crooner Ray Price picked up the tune, recorded and released it in 1958, "City Lights" scored a major hit, ranking at number one on the music charts. Anderson, encouraged by the success of the Price recording, applied himself increasingly to writing songs.
After completing college and graduating with a degree in journalism, Anderson made the move to the mecca of country music, Nashville, Tennessee. There, he signed a contract with Decca Records, signaling the start of a long career that revolved largely around his many hit songs and included his own recordings and performances as well as performances of his music by other singers. Popular stars such as Connie Smith, Jim Reeves, Roy Clark, and Porter Wagoner recorded his tunes, turning many of them into hits. In time, Anderson earned recognition from Billboardas one of the three greatest songwriters in country music, according to an editor's poll. His earliest single hit, "Tip of My Fingers," was released in 1960, as was "Walk Out Backwards." In 1961, he released a new hit, called "Po Folks," and the following year, "Mama Sang a Song" appeared. "Still" and "8 x10" were released in 1963. Between 1958-78, there were 79 charted single releases by Bill Anderson. Among them were a number of duets, including several award-winning collaborations with singer Jan Howard.
As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, a new popular flavor invaded the country music arena. After a decade of striving to update his musical style, Anderson recognized in the early 1990s that he need not compromise the special country flavor of his music in order to accommodate the fickle whims of short-lived music fads. In 1998 he signed with Warner Bros. Records. Media observers labeled the event a comeback for Anderson, although in actuality, according to Anderson, the signing was a continuation of an ongoing 40-year career. His first release for Warner Bros., an album called Fine Wine,included completely new songs. It was his first new issue in over a decade, although he recorded and released some inspirational albums in 1991. Fine Winewas, in fact, his first all-new country style recording since the early 1980s.
In 2000, Anderson released a self-published album called A Lot of Things Different,largely for Internet distribution. He wrote or co-wrote the entire eleven-tune collection. Among the selections on that album, he reprised two classics, "When Two Worlds Collide," written in collaboration with Roger Miller, and a former Jimmy Dickens hit, "A Death in the Family."
In addition to his own top-selling hit recordings and renditions of his songs by other country music stars, Anderson's songs were recorded by vocalists representative of a variety of genres, including R&B star Aretha Franklin and popular singers such as Debbie Reynolds, Vince Gill, and Laurie Morgan. Other stars wasted no time in recording Anderson's memorable tunes. On multiple occasions, Anderson was cited by BMI Records at the annual country music awards in Nashville; he has received awards for male vocalist of the year and for country music television series of the year; his band has also been honored as band of the year.
In 1995, Anderson, who affectionately dubbed Commerce as his adopted hometown, returned to the site of his early inspiration and established Commerce as the venue for an annual City Lights Country Music Festival. Four of his hit songs were listed that year by Billboard, among the top 20 country songs to emerge during the 30-year period between 1965 and 1995. On July 13, 1996, the city of Nashville celebrated an official Bill Anderson Day to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of his membership in the Grand Ole Opry.
Over the years, Anderson hosted an assortment of television shows, including You Can Be a Star and Opry Backstage, both on The Nashville Network (TNN). He has made guest appearances on The Tonight Show, The Today Show,and Hee Haw, along with game shows Match Gameand Family Feud.He published much of his music and his lyrics with Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Nashville, and he is a popular author as well. He wrote an autobiography, called Whisperin' Bill, in 1989. The book became a bestseller throughout the southern United States and went into a fourth printing in 2001. In 1993, he authored a whimsical commentary on country music for Simon & Schuster. Also a full length book, he called the book I Hope You're Living as High on the Hog As the Pig You Turned Out To Be. Only seven years later, in 2000, the book was in a third printing.
Born James William Anderson III on November 1, 1937, in Columbia, SC Education: Journalism degree, University of Georgia. Memberships: Grand Ole Opry, 1961. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros. Records Inc., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694 E-mail: Bill@BillAnderson.com.
First hit song, "City Lights" (recorded by Ray Price), 1958; moved to Nashville, TN; signed with Decca, c. 1960; joined Grand Ole Opry, 1961; began hosting Opry Backstage and You Can Be a Star; published songs with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Nashville.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1975; State of Georgia Music Hall of Fame, 1985; Georgia Broadcasters' Hall of Fame, 1993; South Carolina Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, 1994; assorted Songwriter of the Year awards; 56 BMI Awards.
- "Tip of My Fingers," Decca, 1960.
- "Walk Out Backwards," 1960.
- "Po Folks," Decca, 1961.
- "Mama Sang a Song," Decca, 1962.
- "Still," Decca, 1963.
- "8x10," 1963.
- "Five Little Fingers," 1964.
- "Me," 1964.
- "Three A.M.," 1964.
- "I Love You Drops," 1966.
- "I Get the Fever," 1966.
- "Get While the Getting's Good," 1967.
- "No One's Gonna Hurt You Anymore," 1967.
- "Wild Weekend," 1968.
- "Happy State of Mind," 1968.
- "My Life," 1969.
- "But You Know I Love You," 1969.
- "Love Is a Sometimes Thing," 1970.
- "Where Have All Our Heroes Gone," 1970.
- "Always Remember," 1971.
- "Quits," 1971.
- "All the Lonely Women in the World," 1972.
- "Don't She Look Good," 1972.
- "If You Can Live With It," 1973.
- "The Corner of My Life," 1973.
- "World of Make Believe," 1973.
- "Every Time I Turn the Radio On," 1974.
- "Deck of Cards," Capitol, 1991.
- "Wish You Were Here," 1999.
- "Two Teardrops," 1999.
- Bill Anderson Sings Country Heart Songs, Decca, 1961.
- Still, Decca, 1963.
- Bill Anderson Sings, Decca, 1964.
- Bill Anderson Showcase, Decca, 1964.
- From This Pen, Decca, 1964.
- Bright Lights and Country Music, Longhorn, 1965.
- I Love You Drops, Decca, 1965.
- Get While the Getting's Good, Decca, 1966.
- I Can Do Nothing Alone, Decca, 1967.
- Bill Anderson's Greatest Hits, Decca, 1967.
- (With Jan Howard) For Loving You, Decca, 1967.
- Wild Weekend, Decca, 1968.
- Bill Anderson's Country Style, Vocalion, 1969.
- Happy State of Mind, Decca, 1969.
- Bill Anderson Story, Decca, 1970.
- My Life/But You Know I Love You, Decca, 1970.
- Bill Anderson Christmas, Decca, 1970.
- (With Jan Howard) If It's All the Same to You, Decca, 1971.
- Love Is a Sometime Thing, Decca, 1971.
- Where Have All Our Heroes Gone? Decca, 1971.
- Always Remember, Decca, 1971.
- Bill Anderson's Greatest Hits, MCA, 1971.
- (With Jan Howard) Bill & Jan or Jan & Bill, Decca, 1972.
- (With Jan Howard) Singing His Praises, Decca, 1972.
- All the Lonely Women, Decca, 1972.
- Just Plain Bill, Vocalion, 1972.
- Don't She Look Good, Decca, 1973.
- The Bill Anderson Story, His Greatest Hits, MCA (reissue), 1973.
- Bill, MCA, 1973.
- Whispering Bill Anderson: Can I Come Home to You, MCA, 1974.
- Every Time I Turn the Radio On, MCA, 1974.
- Sometimes(with Mary Lou Turner), MCA, 1975.
- Gentle on My Mind, Picwick (Canada), 1975.
- Peanuts & Diamonds and Other Jewels, MCA, 1975.
- Scorpio, MCA, 1976.
- (With Mary Lou Turner) Bill Boy & Mary Lou, MCA, 1977
- Love & Other Sad Stories, MCA, 1978.
- Ladies Choice, MCA, 1978.
- Whispering Bill Anderson, MCA, 1979.
- Nashville Mirrors, MCA, 1980.
- Bill Anderson Hosts Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, RCA, 1982.
- Southern Fried, Southern Tracks, 1983.
- Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Swanee, 1984.
- The Best of Bill Anderson, Curb, 1991.
- Country Music Heaven, Capitol, 1993.
- Out in the Country, Drive Archive, 1994.
- Greatest Music,Curb, 1996.
- Bill Anderson's Greatest Hits,Varese-Sarabande, 1996.
- Bill Anderson's Greatest Hits Vol. 2,Varese-Sarabande, 1997.
- Fine Wine,Warner Bros. Reprise/Nashville, 1998.
- A Lot of Things Different, 2000.
- Best of the Best, Federal, 2000.
Billboard, July 20, 1996, p. 23; August 1, 1998, p. 30; March 27, 1999, p. 48; June 17, 2000, p. 41.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 27, 2001).
Bill Anderson Official Website, http://www.billanderson.com (February 27, 2001).