Gordon Stoker was raised among a family of musicians in Gleason in the 1930's, a time when singing conventions were prime entertainment among small southern towns that took turns hosting the events, giving locals at least one opportunity each month to enjoy the shows while many ventured to neighboring towns on successive weekends for the added spice of variety.
One of the most spectacular of the singing conventions was the Snead-Grove Picnic in McKenzie, where local talent mixed with stars of the Grand Ole Opry to the delight of enthusiasts who came from near and far to enjoy the popular event. It was here that 12-year-old piano sensation Gordon Stoker caught the eye and ear of John Daniel, manager of the famed Daniel Quartet, who proclaimed his intention to make the boy a star someday.
While members of the Daniel Quartet waited for Gordon to grow up before whisking him away to Nashville (an act that was set in motion just one week after he graduated from high school at the age of 15), Gordon set about promoting his own fame as a member of the Clement trio, the sensational young group that in addition to Stoker was made up of the Clement children: Gloria, Rachel, and Fred, Jr.. The hot young trio was an early morning staple on WTJS radio, listened to regularly in homes where television had not yet made its debut.
Fans continued to enjoy Gordon's inimitable skills on the piano as WSM radio in Nashville broadcast the sounds of the Daniel Quartet to homes across Tennessee. Gordon's success with the quartet was interrupted, however, when he was drafted into the Air Force in 1943. He served as a Teletype operator for three years during World War II, then devoted a few years to education - studying psychology, music and voice - before being drawn back to Nashville, where the Daniel Quartet was still going strong.
Hugh Gordon Stoker rejoined the Daniel Quartet upon his return to Nashville, bringing back his special brand of piano skills that had increasingly thrilled listeners since he was eight years old. Meanwhile, in Springfield Missouri, a new quartet, The Jordanaires, was formed in 1948 by Bill and Monty Matthews along with bass singer Culley Holt and second tenor Bob Hubbard.
The following year The Jordanaires were in Nashville, having been hired by the Grand Ole Opry. Then, once again, the draft changed the face of music when the group's original piano player, Bob Money, was drafted.
Gordon auditioned among competition like Boyce Hawkins and Marvin Hughes, both of whom later played for The Jordanaires from time to time, Hawkins filling in as needed and Hughes playing for the group during Grand Ole Opry shows.
Gordon won the audition, becoming the group's piano player in 1950, the same year he met his wife, Jean, at a singing in Nashville.
"We had a church singing every second Tuesday; it was a big singing," Gordon shared, recalling once more the affairs that filled weekends everywhere with music.
"She loved to sing gospel songs and I loved to play them," he continues by way of explaining the attraction that grew between the young couple. As a member of the Wilkerson Trio, along with her sisters Mildred and Edna, Jean was also a performer at the singing where she met Hugh Gordon, finally meeting the young man whose music she had enjoyed since both were children.
"She had listened to me play as far back as 1942. People listened to the radio every morning before work," he says, explaining again the differences in the era before television was a widespread source of entertainment and information. When Gordon and Jean married on September 9, 1951, The Jordanaires sang "Tell Me Why" at the wedding with Boyce Hawkins at the organ.
In 1952, Gordon's career shifted suddenly and dramatically when first tenor Bill Matthews was unable to perform during the first evening of an engagement at a supper club in Detroit, Michigan.
"Hoyt Hawkins came to play piano," says Gordon, who was forced that evening to assume the role of first tenor at a moment's notice. More changes were in store for the group when Bob Hubbard was drafted, with Neil Matthews (no relation to the former Matthews brothers) taking the second tenor position in 1953.
For 47 years, from 1953 through 2000, the group's membership was almost constant with Gordon Stoker at first tenor, Neal Matthews as second tenor, and Hoyt Hawkins as baritone. Their joint tenures were interrupted in 1982 when Hoyt passed away with the baritone position then filled by Duane West, who died last year. In the bass position, Ray Walker filled Hugh Jarrett's position (who had replaced Holt in 1954) in 1958 and continues to present.
The quartet is currently composed of first tenor/manager Gordon Stoker, second tenor Curtis Young (who filled Neal's position when he died in 2000), baritone Louis Nunley (who took Duane West's place) and bass Ray Walker.
by Deborah Turner