who was born in Centreville, Mississippi, and grew up in nearby
Wilkinson. His father was a
traveling preacher and they moved around a lot. Ray made his public singing debut when
he was only six years of age.
He began his recording career when he was only thirteen. By the time he graduated from high
school, he and his family had lived in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,
Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia.
young man matriculated to David Lipscomb College, his parents’ alma
mater, in Nashville, Tennessee.
He was the chaplain in both of his schools’ senior classes. It was just a portent of things to
come. One of his
extra-curricular activities at school was singing in a quartet with a young
Pat Boone. They were good
enough to warrant bookings for live performances and TV shows.
In the fall of
1954, he married his childhood sweetheart, Marilyn DuFresne.
He quit school
in 1955 and went to work in a church in Centerville, Tennessee. It was here the college dropout
became the youngest ever principal in the history of the Volunteer
In his copious
free time, he helped start up WHLP Radio.
In 1956, he
went back to finish his schooling and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in
Bible, Education, Music and Speech.
The summer after graduation, he worked at the Werthan
Bag Company to make ends meet, as he and Marilyn were expecting their third
child. He took up his old post
in the church and went to work in the Davidson County school district as an
assistant principal, coach, and teacher.
choral director from David Lipscomb College hooked him up with The Jordanaires, who were in need of a bass singer to
replace the departing Hugh Jarrett.
Later that day, he received a phone call from Gordon Stoker, the
first tenor, manager and pianist of the group, and auditioned, literally,
in the eleventh hour. The next
day, he was a Jordanaire. He had to get permission from the
school to let him record some sessions in Hollywood, California. After a brief time in the movie
capital, Ray went back home to honour the
remainder of his teaching commitment for the year, and officially became a
member of The Jordanaires on 1st June
1958. It is a membership whose rewards
he continues to reap to this day.
During his early years with the group, they famously backed Elvis
Presley and appeared in his films.
The work was welcome, as by now the Walker brood had doubled from
three to six.
In 1976, he
moonlighted as the host of ABC’s Your
Own Time. This Renaissance
man has also had a hand in modeling, commercial work, print media, and has
even been a deputy sheriff.
This was all in between recording gigs, of course. For four decades, from the
‘60s through the ‘90s, Ray and his fellow Jordanaires
were in constant demand as session singers. It is believed he recorded as many
as 200 tracks in one week.
In 2005, his
alma mater, which had now become David Lipscomb University, bestowed upon
him their Avalon Award, presented to a graduate for their accomplishment
and contribution to society.
One of those contributions is his work with foster kids, a cause he
and his wife have championed since their first year of marriage. The Walker family certainly has a
big tent that includes three great-grandchildren and fifteen
grandchildren. Neither have
they slowed down. Ray is active
in the church, ministering to his flock at the Waverly Church of Christ in
Tennessee and leading the congregations at variegated singings in neighbouring area churches.
On top of
this, he continues to perform with The Jordanaires. He and Gordon Stoker have both been
with the group since 1958. One
of their staples is the Elvis tribute concert, a tradition they began in
the 1990s, keeping the King’s music alive with country singer, Ronnie
McDowell. They pay similar
homage to one of their other famous collaborators in “The Original
Tribute to Patsy Cline”.
Ray has been
inducted, as a member of The Jordanaires, into the Country Music Hall of
Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the North American Country Music
Association International Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and
the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.