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Former Statler to sing at Woodstock Opera House

Jimmy Fortune will play at the Woodstock Opera House on Friday
Jimmy Fortune will play at the Woodstock Opera House on Friday

WOODSTOCK – Good fortune seems to be a big part of his life, so it is appropriate that it would literally reside in his namesake.

Growing up in Staunton, Virginia, Jimmy Fortune said his childhood compared very much to the hit TV show, “The Waltons,” filled with good values and a loving home, no matter how much or little they had. The good fortune, however, didn’t stop there.

In 1982, Fortune was handpicked by Lew DeWitt, a founding member of the country and gospel quartet The Statler Brothers, to be his replacement. Fortune did not audition. He did not send recordings for consideration. He simply performed, as he did, six nights a week, four hours a night, until he happened to catch a break.

At 26 years old, Fortune joined the group, a position he never thought he would be in.

“The Statler Brothers were bigger than life to all of us back then growing up in Virginia,” Fortune said. “They were probably the biggest thing to come out of Virginia. We’d always hear about the Statler Brothers and listen to them on the radio and things like that. I thought even if I just get to sing around a piano with them one time, I’ll have something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about one day. And I never dreamed that they’d hire me. It was kind of a whirlwind.

“Things started moving really fast. It’s never the way you dream of it. It’s not all the glitz and glamour you think it is. It’s a lot of hard work. When it’s your living, a lot of the fun goes out of it, so-to-speak. You have to find a way to keep the fun in it. So that’s what I always tried to do. I loved the music and I never lost the love for that.”

Fortune continued with the group for 21 years singing tenor and playing guitar, permanently replacing DeWitt. Fortune also wrote several hits for the group, including “Elizabeth,” “Too Much on My Heart” and “My Only Love.” In 2002, the group retired and Fortune decided to continue as a solo artist.

“They asked what I was going to do and I said, ‘Well, I don’t think God’s finished with me yet. I still sing and I still write. I still play. I’m just gonna continue on and try to make a living at this’,” Fortune said. “So that’s what I did. It was a bit of a struggle for a while. I wasn’t settin’ the world on fire, but I was making a living. And that was my goal, to making a living on my own playing music.”

Fortune is a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Now at 63 years old, the Nashville resident continues to play across the country but makes it a point to head back to his home state of Virginia to visit his seven children and 10 grandchildren.

“I can’t stay away from them too long. It’s just one of those things. I can’t really explain it. It’s a daddy and a paw-paw thing,” Fortune said. “That’s my favorite thing in life is being a daddy and a paw-paw. Grandkids are the icing on the cake, but the kids are the cake, and the cake is really good, too.”

Fortune will perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Woodstock Opera House. The performance will feature of mix of Statler Brothers music and Fortune’s personal songs. He said he plans to take attendees on a little walk through his life with his music. In tow will be fiddle and mandolin player Ryan Joseph, who also plays with country singer Alan Jackson, as well as up-and-comer John Meyer to sing and play banjo.

“We are trying to diversify some of our programming here and reach new audiences,” said Daniel Campbell, managing director of the Woodstock Opera House. “We don’t have a lot of country music in our lineup usually, so we’re trying to look for something that would fill that niche and, of course, Jimmy has quite a bit of pedigree going back to the Statler Brothers and being in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The timing was right and it worked well for both parties. We’re looking forward to having him here at the Opera House.”

Fortune said he plans to continue to play performances as well as foster new artists. When it’s time for him to truly retire, he thinks he’ll get a sure-fire sign.

“The live experience you get on the road, you can’t hardly buy that. It’s a blessing for you to not stay stale and use the gifts that God gave you,” Fortune said. “I may slow down some, but I don’t know if I’ll ever retire. I love the work and I’m thankful for it. I want to write and create some more, and I want to get some of these young people going. As long as people aren’t puttin’ fingers in their ears and walking out, I’ll still keep going on stage and doing what I love to do.”

For ticket information, visit www.woodstockoperahouse.com/operahouse/page/jimmy-fortune.

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