Billy Grammer

“Gotta Travel On” put singer Billy Wayne Grammer on the musical map. Adapted from a 150-year-old British folk tune, the October 1958 release landed him on a trio of charts: country (#5), pop (#4), and R&B (#14).

Birth: August 28, 1925 - Death: August 10, 2011
Birthplace: Benton, Illinois

In addition, the million-selling record was the first hit for Monument Records and its founder, producer Fred Foster, who had helped craft the song’s lyrics. A 1961 Grammer release, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” b/w “The Kissing Tree,” is estimated to have sold 500,000 units.

The eldest of thirteen children, Grammer began playing guitar at age five, and soon he was playing locally with fiddler father Arch Grammer. Billy made his radio debut on WJPF-Herrin, Illinois, in 1940. After military service in World War II, he worked for Connie B. Gay at WARL -Arlington, Virginia. There Grammer performed on Jimmy Dean’s CBS-TV show (1957-58). Grammer joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959, remaining until he lost his eyesight.

He designed the Grammer Flat Top Guitar, donating his first model to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1969. With partners, he manufactured the guitar from 1965 to 1970. The agile guitarist’s sophisticated licks garnered numerous studio sessions with artists such as Eddy Arnold, Louis Armstrong, and Patti Page and inspired other guitarists, including Roy Clark. In 1965 Grammer had his own syndicated TV series.

Deeply religious, Grammer delivered the invocation for the Grand Ole Opry House opening on March 16, 1974. — Walt Trott

— Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.

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