Connie Gay, Country Music Entrepreneur and Starmaker

Image from the Wendell Historical Society.On August 22, 1914, Country Music Association founder Connie Barriot Gay was born in Lizard Lick in rural Wake County.

After working on his family’s tobacco farm as a youth, Gay become an agricultural extension agent. That job led him into radio broadcasting in the 1940s when he took over the Farm Security Administration’s National Farm and Home Hour.

Gay’s interest in radio and music grew, and in 1946, he approached the program director of an Arlington, Virginia, radio station about starting a country music show called “Town and Country.” Through the show, Gay polished the image of what had been known as “hillbilly music” and he is credited with coining the term “country music”.

After his radio career ended, Gay went on to be a prime mover and shaker in the growth of the country music industry. Many of the shows he produced sold out to thousands of fans. He teamed up with the “Grand Ole Opry” for several years, planning and promoting shows for radio, the stage and TV, and in the process, discovering Patsy Cline and Jimmy Dean.

After a brief hiatus to address his alcoholism, Gay returned to the public scene to found the Country Music Association and the Country Music Foundation. By 1980, he had earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He died in 1989, leaving a star-studded legacy behind.

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