Gordon Stoker, the lead tenor in the Jordanaires vocal group that backed Elvis Presley, died Wednesday at his home in Brentwood, Tenn., after a lengthy illness, his son, Alan, told the Associated Press. He was 88.
Stoker joined the Jordanaires in 1950, two years after they formed in Missouri. He originally played piano for the group. They caught the attention of Presley in the mid-1950s when they performed with Eddy Arnold at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
When Presley burst onto the national scene in 1956 on Steve Allen's TV show, Stoker and the Jordanaires were with him. They also sang on the original New York RCA studios recordings of "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel" and other hits.
The gospel harmony quartet, whose lineup changed over the years, performed as Presley's primary backup on stage and in the studio until 1968. The singers can be heard on "It's Now or Never," "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," "Teddy Bear" and "Don't," among others. Their film appearances with Presley in the '50s and '60s included "King Creole," "G.I. Blues" and "Girls! Girls! Girls!"
When Presley began performing two shows a night in Las Vegas, the Jordanaires bowed out. After his death in 1977, they recorded tribute albums featuring his familiar songs.
As a member of the Jordanaires, Stoker also performed with Patsy Cline on "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Sweet Dreams," and with Ricky Nelson on "Traveling Man" and "Hello Mary Lou." The group provided backing vocals for Sissy Spacek in the 1980 bio-pic of Loretta Lynn, "Coal Miner's Daughter."
Stoker was born Aug. 3, 1924, in Gleason, Tenn., and began playing piano professionally at age 15. When he joined the Jordanaires, he already knew many of the spiritual numbers they performed.
"He could play by ear," said John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. "Anything he could hear on the radio, he could play it."
The Jordanaires, who recorded many gospel albums on their own, were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.