Tom T. Hall, Country Music’s “The Storyteller,” Dead At 85
Tom T. Hall, the singer-songwriter and Country Music Hall Of Famer known as “The Storyteller” for his detailed narrative songs like “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” has passed away. His son Dean confirmed the news on Twitter, writing, “With great sadness, my father, Tom T. Hall, died this morning at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. Our family asks for privacy during this difficult time.” He was 85.
Born in Olive Hill, Kentucky, Hall played in a bluegrass band called the Kentucky Travelers as a teenager. In 1957, he joined the Army, occasionally performing over the Armed Forces Radio Network while stationed in Germany. Upon returning home, he worked as a radio announcer and disc jockey at various small-town country stations around the Southeast. But he still wrote music in his free time, and in 1963, a publisher heard his song “D.J. For A Day” and brought it to singer Jimmy C. Newman, who recorded it and helped Hall score his first top 10 hit as a songwriter.
The next year, Hall moved to Nashville to become a professional songwriter. He went on to write songs including “Hello Vietnam,” “(Old Dogs, Children And) Watermelon Wine,” “I Love,” “Country Is,” “Faster Horses (The Cowboy And The Poet),” and “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which became a #1 crossover hit when Jeannie C. Riley recorded it in 1968. Her version won a Grammy, and it was so popular that it was spun off into a movie and a sitcom starring I Dream Of Jeannie‘s Barbara Eden as the song’s young widowed mother. (“Harper’s Valley P.T.A” was the subject of three episodes of Tyler Mahan Coe’s great country music history podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones, one of which focused on Hall.)
Hall penned songs for country stars like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Alan Jackson, Bobby Bare, and he also recorded his own material. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1971 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1978, the Kentucky Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2002, and the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2008. He was nominated for six Grammys, winning Best Album Notes in 1973 his album Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits. He also wrote several books, including The Songwriter’s Handbook and the 1979 memoir The Storyteller’s Nashville.