This story has been updated.
One of country music’s critically-important performers from the Golden Era of the 50’s and 60’s, and one of the Grand Ole Opry’s most regular performers throughout the years, has passed on to that big stage in the sky. Stonewall Jackson was not a nickname. He was named after the Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at birth on November 6th, 1932, though despite rumors, there was no direct relation. Stonewall’s name was famous, though he’s also one of those performers whose music and legacy regularly get unfairly lost in the fray.
Born in Tabor City, North Carolina, Stonewall Jackson had the distinction of becoming one of the first Grand Ole Opry stars to be invited in as a member before he’d secured a recording contract. It happened in 1956 after music publisher Wesley Rose heard Stonewall’s demo recording, and set him up with an audition. Once he began making regular appearances on the Opry and toured around with his mentor Ernest Tubb, Jackson finally landed a deal with Columbia Records, earning his first hit with a song called “Life to Go,” written by an up-and-coming George Jones.
Stonewall would go on to have quite a successful recording career, releasing twenty Top 20 singles over the next many years, including #1’s for “Waterloo” in 1959, and “B.J. and the D.J.” in 1964, and 35 Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1971. His final hit was a cover of Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.”
Stonewall also has the distinction of taking the Opry to task in 2006 when he sued the institution for $20 million for age discrimination after 50 years as a member. Jackson became a rallying cry for many artists and fans who felt the Opry was abandoning them in their old age, and it helped change the culture of the Opry to embrace aging artists as opposed to pushing them out. The lawsuit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, and made large strides for older country performers.
Health had kept Stonewall mostly out of the public eye in recent years. He lived on a farm in Brentwood, Tennessee with his wife Juanita who passed away in 2019.
Stonewall Jackson died on Saturday, December 4th after a long battle with vascular dementia. Saturday night’s Opry is scheduled to pay tribute to Stonewall during the presentation. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“Saddened to hear the news of the passing of fellow Grand Ole Opry Member ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,” Rhonda Vincent said at the news. “He was a real character. His style was reflected in everything he did. I most recently was driving around Nashville and noticed his tour bus parked. Oh, the stories that bus could tell. He made no apologies for who he was. I admired his grit, and how he stood up for what he believed in. My sincere condolences to his family. Rest In Peace.”
At 89-years-old, Stonewall Jackson was the oldest tenured member of the Grand Ole Opry, the only member from the 50’s, and one of country music’s oldest living performers overall. Bill Anderson is now the oldest tenured Grand Ole Opry member, joining in 1961.
This story has been updated.