Uncle Art Satherley, a pioneering record industry executive who helped launch the careers of major country music performers such as Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, Bob Wills and others, died Mondayat his Fountain Valley home of natural causes. He was 96.
Satherley had been in poor health in recent years but he was "still in good spirits and joking with his wife, Harriet, on Sunday," longtime friend Forrest White said.
Among the artists Satherley discovered, signed or recorded during his career as a recording director for Columbia Records were Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, the Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, Bill Monroe, Lefty Frizzell and Marty Robbins. Satherley was credited with naming Wills' signature tune "San Antonio Rose."
He also played a major role in Gene Autry's early career, White said, and recorded Autry's first big hit, "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," in 1930. "Uncle Art convinced Herbert Yates, the president of Republic Studios, that Gene would be great as a singing cowboy in motion pictures," White said.
Born in Bristol, England, in 1889, Satherley came to the United States in 1913 "to see the cowboys and Indians," White said.
Known as "Mr. Country Music" for his contributions in that field, Satherley also recorded many important early black musicians, such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, said historian and veteran country music disc jockey Hugh Cherry, who knew Satherley for 40 years. "He recorded everything--cowboy music, hillbilly, black acts when they were called race records and novelty groups. He was the first recording director to record in Nashville," Cherry said.
The country music Establishment recognized Satherley's contributions by inducting him into its Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in October, 1971. He also received the first Pioneer Award given by the Academy of Country Music in 1968. Satherley was vice president of Columbia Records when he retired in 1952.
There will be no funeral service, White said.
He leaves his wife, Harriet; a daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Lee Reick, and three grandchildren.