Born Anita Jean Grilli, 31 October 1927, Memphis, Tennessee
After rock & roll set back country record sales, the major Nashville producers - Owen Bradley (Decca), Don Law (Columbia), Ken Nelson (Capitol) and, most of all, Chet Atkins (RCA) - became intent on making country records more appealing to pop audiences. They began to produce singers backed by neutral rhythm sections and vocal choruses instead of the traditional fiddles, banjos and steel guitars. A major figure in the creation in this style, later known as the Nashville Sound, was Anita Kerr, an influential vocal and instrumental arranger. Her group, the Anita Kerr Singers, became a staple on countless recordings, helping to considerably broaden country music's market. Kerr took piano lessons from the age of four and she was soon appearing on her mother's radio show in Memphis. By the age of 14, she was the staff pianist and was making vocal arrangements of church music for the station. In 1949, she formed the Anita Kerr Quartet with Gil Wright (tenor), Dorothy Ann "Dottie" Dillard (alto) and Louis Nunley (baritone) ; Kerr herself sang soprano. Two years later they signed to Decca Records and established themselves as session singers, particularly in Nashville. By the early 60s, the quartet were featured on, it is estimated or alleged, a quarter of all the country records being made in Nashville, including records by Eddy Arnold, Floyd Cramer, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow and Don Gibson, as well as pop records by Brook Benton, Perry Como, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison. Starting in 1961, Kerr became Chet Atkins's recording assistant at RCA sessions, working as vocal group leader, arranger, and occasional producer, her most successful production being "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis. The Anita Kerr Quartet recorded on its own as well at times under other names. As the Little Dippers, they scored a # 9 pop hit in March 1960 with the Buddy Killen composition "Forever", which also gave Pete Drake his only hit (1964). As Anita & th'So-And-Sos, they had another minor hit with "Joey Baby" in 1962. In the mid-60s, the Anita Kerr Quartet made several easy-listening albums, two of which (We Dig Mancini and South- land Favorites) won Grammy awards (in the Best Vocal Group and Gospel categories, respectively). Having established a new direction, Kerr relocated to Hollywood and created the Anita Kerr Singers, featuring Jackie Ward or B.J. Baker (sopranos), Gene Merlino (tenor), and Bob Tedow (bass). Signing to Warner Brothers Records, the new outfit recorded compellingly strange easy-listening music, several of which were released under the Mexicali Singers moniker. They also accompanied Rod McKuen on his bestselling poetry albums under the San Sebastian Strings moniker, and appeared on the Smothers Brothers comedy sketch program. After a short spell at Dot Records, Kerr returned to Nashville and concentrated on the Christian music scene.
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