Merv Shiner, One Of Country Music’s Oldest Legends, Dies at 102

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One of the very last living ties to the earliest eras of country music has passed away. Merv Shiner was a cast member of the Wheeling Jamboree, performed on the radio in the 1930s, recorded singles in the 1940s, and was introduced by Hank Williams when he made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1950. Merv Shiner died on October 23rd in Tampa, Florida where he’d been living for the last many years. He was 102 years old.

Mervin James Shiner was born on February 20, 1921 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to a musical family. From an early age, Shiner would perform country and Gospel songs with his mother, Jennie Newton Shiner, who was a singer and performer herself. By 1936 the pair was playing radio shows in Pennsylvania and calling themselves “Mervin Shiner and His Mother.”

In 1942 during World War II, Shiner moved to Los Angeles to work at a defense plant, and to try and make it in music in Hollywood as a solo artist. But when that didn’t pan out, he returned back east and reunited with his mother. The duo again began performing on radio and TV shows, including appearing on Dave Miller’s show in New Jersey in 1948. It was an appearance on the New York-based show Hometown Frolic in 1949 that caught the eye of country songwriter Vaughn Horton. He helped land Merv Shiner a recording contract with Decca Records.

Along with Decca, Merv Shiner would also record for Apex, Coral, Certron, and RCA Victor over his career. Merv never had any major success as a recording artist, but he did have a Top 10 hit with “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.” Then Decca producer Paul Cohen brought Merv a song called “Peter Cottontail” that he wanted him to record. Shiner was reluctant because it was a kid’s song and he was a honky tonk and Western singer. But Merv relented.

“Peter Cottontail” became a major hit in 1950 for kids and adults alike. The success of the song allowed Shiner to make his Grand Ole Opry debut on April 8, 1950, which was the day before Easter, and the perfect day to perform “Peter Cottontail.” Hank Williams introduced Merv on stage, which made Shiner one of the last surviving performers to have shared the stage with Hank.

Though his recording career never took off after “Peter Cottontail,” Merv Shiner continued to find success as a performer on the stage, and on screens big and small. He performed on Red Foley’s Jubilee U.S.A. and Pee Wee King’s Cleveland-based TV Show. In 1965, Shiner appeared in the movie Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar with greats like “Little” Jimmy Dickens, Lefty Frizzell, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Connie Smith, and Webb Pierce.

In the early ’70s, Shiner started working behind the desk for country music, becoming the A&R Director for Certron Records. Along with promoting the music of Johnny Paycheck and the early band of Don Williams called Pozo Seco, the label also released Merv Shiner’s version of the Crosby, Still, and Nash song “Teach Your Children.”

Merv Shiner officially retired in 2004. In 2021, he was recognized by the Nashville chapter of the Musician’s Union on his 100th birthday as the chapter’s oldest member. Aside from fiddle player Violet Hensley who just turned 107, Merv Shiner was the oldest performer on Saving Country Music’s list of the Oldest Living Links and Legends to country music’s past. The nearest frontman and singer to Merv is Leroy Van Dyke who is younger by nearly 10 years.

Merv Shiner truly was a living piece of music history. He will be buried in a family plot in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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