Fred Foster, producer who helped launch Dolly Parton’s career, dies at 87

Legendary Nashville producer Fred Foster, who famously launched Dolly Parton’s music career, died in his sleep Wednesday at age 87.

Foster leaves a legacy of numerous Nashville music stars and was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame after a lifetime of success as a record producer, songwriter and founder of Monument Records.

Making Dolly

Dolly Parton issued a statement Thursday reacting to Foster’s death and praising him for his enormous impact on her life, both professionally and personally.

“I am heartbroken that my friend Fred Foster has passed on,” she said. “Fred was one of the very first people to believe in me and gave me chances no one else would or could. We’ve stayed friends through the years and I will miss him. I will always love him.”

Parton was just an unknown singer-songwriter from East Tennessee when Foster sensed the makings of a star. He gave her a chance to make her own record as well as contribute songs to other artists. By backing Parton’s work, Foster set her on the path to eventually landing a spot on Porter Wagoner’s television show and skyrocketing to fame.

A Nose for Talent

Foster was known for his amazing ability to discover young talent and mold that potential into commercial success. He took pride in his knack for spotting “something unique in somebody.”

“Anybody who dropped a needle on a groove of a Monument record, I wanted them to immediately know, ‘Oh, that’s Dolly Parton,’ or ‘That’s Roy Orbison.’ It had to be unique,” he said.

Foster’s Monument Records produced classic Orbison hits such as “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which sold more than 7 million copies in 1964 and earned Orbison a Grammy nomination.

In addition to launching the careers of Dolly Parton and Roy Orbison, Foster also discovered Kris Kristofferson through his publishing company, Combine Music. Foster co-wrote Kristofferson’s hit song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was named after a secretary who worked in his office building.

“[Kristofferson] was so intelligent, so gifted, so talented and he didn’t sound like anybody I had ever heard,” Foster said.

Even in his old age, Foster never stopped working. He produced a Grammy winning album in 2007; and in 2016, he worked on For the Good Times, a Ray Price tribute album for Willie Nelson.

Rather than slowing down, at age 85 Foster confidently announced, “I think I’m probably a better producer today than I have ever been.”

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