April 15, 1900
May 4, 1952
Limestone County, Alabama
Joseph Lee “J. L.” Frank was the first major promoter and manager on the Nashville country music scene.
He grew up in Giles County, Tennessee, near the Alabama border, and worked in Birmingham steel mills as a young man before moving to the coal mines of Illinois. At twenty-three, Frank headed for Chicago, where he eventually became a booking agent for radio stars Fibber McGee & Molly, Gene Autry, and other entertainers.
During the mid-1930s, Frank centered his operations in Louisville, Kentucky, for a time, promoting Autry briefly before Autry’s move to Hollywood. Other acts then under Frank’s wing were fiddler Clayton McMichen and Frankie More & His Log Cabin Boys, then including Frank’s son-in-law and future Grand Ole Opry star Pee Wee King. In mid-decade, King struck out on his own, and Frank helped promote him around the Knoxville area. In 1937 Frank helped land King & His Golden West Cowboys a berth on the Opry. By this time Frank had met Roy Acuff around Knoxville and helped him follow King’s example in 1938. It was Frank who suggested that Acuff change his band’s name from Crazy Tennesseans to the nobler-sounding Smoky Mountain Boys.
Determined in his efforts, with a professional sense of show business flair, Frank was instrumental in boosting Opry acts from small-town theaters and schools to big-city auditoriums. Frank’s behind-the-scenes activities were just as significant as the sellout package shows he organized. He helped promote the early careers of both Eddy Arnold and Minnie Pearl. Generous to a fault, he lent a helping hand to many young musicians, not only in business matters but also in personal ones. Opry veteran Alton Delmore of the Delmore Brothers described Frank as “a clean-cut, neat fellow, handsome, with a little mustache and a big Texas hat. . . . He always had his heart in his work, and he always had a good word for the down-and-out musician. . . . He was an excellent promoter and he knew just what he wanted and he always got it.” Thus, Frank’s death, at the peak of his career, was widely regarded as a great loss to the industry. Frank was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967. – John Rumble
– Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.