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Songwriting Great Billy Edd Wheeler Named Next Poet And Prophet

September 11, 2014
Exterior of Country Music Hall of Fame taken from a drone.

NASHVILLE, Tenn., September 10, 2014 – Songwriting legend Billy Edd Wheeler, who has supplied smash hits for Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash & June Carter, will share his stories and songs as the next subject of the acclaimed songwriter series, Poets and Prophets, at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum on Saturday, October 18, at 1:30 p.m.

Hosted by Museum Editor Michael Gray, the 90-minute program will include recordings, photos and film clips from the museum’s Frist Library and Archive. Held in the museum’s Ford Theater, Poets and Prophets is included with museum admission and is free to museum members, although seating is limited, and passes are required for admittance. The interview and performance will be streamed live on the museum’s website.

Immediately following the program, Wheeler will sign limited edition, commemorative Hatch Show Print posters. (Visit the museum’s website for complete admission and signing details.)

Billy Edd Wheeler was born and raised in Boone County, West Virginia. After graduating from Berea College in 1955, he served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy. Upon his discharge, he studied playwriting at Yale’s School of Drama. That training would lend itself to the story songs he would write in later years.

In the late 1950s, Wheeler began appearing on programs such as the Today show, the Merv Griffin Show, and the WWVA Jamboree. He recorded for Monitor Records and, later, for United Artists, Kapp and RCA. Wheeler had marginal chart success with his albums The Wheeler Man (1963), Town and Country (1965) and Nashville Zodiac (1969). His most successful single was “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back” which reached # 3 in 1964–65.

Though a critically acclaimed recording artist, Wheeler is best known for writing songs for others.  His first major cut as a songwriter was “Reverend Mister Black,” which the Kingston Trio put in the Top Ten in 1963. In 1967, Johnny Cash and June Carter had a crossover hit with Wheeler’s “Jackson.” The song has become one of the most celebrated country duets and a karaoke staple. The song was also featured in the 2005 Cash biopic, Walk the Line.

In 1979, Kenny Rogers had a big hit with Wheeler’s “Coward of the County.” Co-written with Roger Bowling, the song went to #1 early the following year. Its strong social commentary of justice centers around a young man named Tommy who has earned the reputation of being a coward—in no small part to the advice of his imprisoned father to “turn the other cheek.” By the end of the song, Tommy must fight to avenge the abuse of his beloved Jenny. The song was made into a TV movie in 1981. Rogers starred as Tommy’s uncle (the narrator of the song). This Poets and Prophets program coincides with the museum’s exhibition Kenny Rogers: Through the Years.

Among the other songs Wheeler has written are Cash’s “Blistered,” Elvis Presley’s “It’s Midnight,” Jerry Reed’s “Gimme Back My Blues,” and Judy Collins’ “The Coming of the Roads.” Several artists have covered Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo” and “High Flyin’ Bird.”

At age 82 and living in the Asheville, North Carolina, area, Wheeler remains an artist in every sense of the word—continuing to paint and write songs, plays and folk humor. In addition to being elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, he is also a member of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

The Poets and Prophets interview series honors songwriters who have made significant contributions to country music history. Previous subjects include Bill Anderson, Matraca Berg, Bobby Braddock, Wayne Carson, Buzz Cason, Jerry Chesnut, Hank Cochran, Roger Cook, Sonny Curtis, Dean Dillon, Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Kye Fleming, Jerry Foster, Dallas Frazier, Red Lane, John D. Loudermilk, Bob McDill, Roger Murrah, Dan Penn, Curly Putman, Allen Reynolds, Mark D. Sanders, Don Schlitz, Whitey Shafer, Red Simpson, Jeffrey Steele, Sonny Throckmorton, Norro Wilson and Craig Wiseman.

The Poets and Prophets series is made possible, in part, by grants from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and by an agreement between the Tennessee Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. With the same educational mission, the foundation also operates CMF Records, the museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at or by calling (615) 416-2001.


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