A veteran singer and guitarist who has become one of the mainstays of country music, Jimmy Fortune spent more than two decades as a member of the vocal group the Statler Brothers before moving on to a solo career.
Born in Staunton, Virginia on March 11, 1955, Fortune began his career as a singer in high school as a member of the Nelcon County High School choir. After leaving school in 1973, he decided to take a shot at a professional career in music. Though Fortune was a gifted singer with a strong tenor voice, he struggled to land his big break until 1981. That year, Lew DeWitt of the Statler Brothers, the famed country vocal group that also hailed from Staunton, heard Fortune singing at a ski resort and was favorably impressed with his talents. DeWitt was struggling with Crohn's Disease and no longer up to the demands of the Statlers' busy schedule, so he suggested Fortune as a good substitute for a handful of upcoming shows. Fortune passed an audition with the Statler Brothers, and soon became DeWitt's permanent replacement in the quartet. Fortune's tenor vocals and guitar work became an integral part of the group, and he wrote several of their latter-day hits, including "Elizabeth," "Too Much on My Heart," and "More Than a Name on a Wall."
In 2002, Statlers founders Don Reid, Harold Reid, and Phil Balsley decided it was time to retire the group, and Fortune transitioned into a solo career. He released his first solo album, When One Door Closes, in 2003, and a gospel collection, I Believe, followed in late 2005. Fortune's first holiday-themed album, Feels Like Christmas, was issued in 2007, the same year he and his bandmates in the Statler Brothers were inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Fortune and the Statlers were welcomed into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2009 Fortune released a new album, Windows, through his own Fortune Enterprises label. Another country album, Lessons, dropped in 2012, and in 2015 Fortune teamed with gospel legend Bill Gaither for an album called Hits and Hymns, in which Fortune performed some of his best-loved songs as a solo artist and as a member of the Statler Brothers, as well as a number of his favorite gospel numbers. The album included guest appearances from Vince Gill, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, the Gaither Vocal Band, and more. In 2017 Fortune issued Sings the Classics, which saw him take on radio staples like the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights," and John Denver's "Take Me Home (Country Roads)." ~ Mark Deming