Wyatt Merle Kilgore (August 9, 1934 - February 6, 2005) was an American singer, songwriter, and manager. Born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, he was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was the personal manager of Hank Williams Sr. at the time of his death.
Although born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, United States, Kilgore was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was the son of Wyatt and Gladys B. (Clowers) Kilgore. As a boy of 14 he carried the guitar for Hank Williams at the Louisiana Hayride beginning a close relationship with the Williams family that would last three generations. He attended school at C. E. Byrd High School and then Louisiana Tech University.
Kilgore went on to a career as a country music recording artist but had great success as a songwriter, co-writing with June Carter the song "Ring of Fire", first recorded by her sister Anita Carter and later by June's future husband, Johnny Cash (Kilgore was a distant cousin of the Carter sisters through their maternal grandmother, Margaret Kilgore Addington); June, later known as June Carter Cash, would record her own version of the song for her album Press On, released in 1999. He also co-wrote Claude King's big crossover hit, Wolverton Mountain. Amongst others, he also penned "Johnny Reb" for Johnny Horton and the Tommy Roe pop music hit, "The Folk Singer". In the early 1960s, he toured with Cash as part of his package show. He stood as Johnny Cash's best man at his wedding to June Carter.
A resident of Paris, Tennessee, since 1986, he was also a prominent member of the business community. On April 7, 1986, he was named Executive Vice President and head of management of Hank Williams Jr. Enterprises. In addition to managing Hank Williams Jr's career (along with that of Hank Jr's Bama Band), Kilgore managed a number of other artists from his Nashville office. Kilgore also had a number of successful business ventures and held numerous leadership positions. Kilgore's prominence in the country music community had grown through his involvement as Vice President of the Country Music Association, and he had served on the CMA Board of Directors. Also contributing to his success was his position as President of both the Nashville Songwriter's Foundation as well as the Nashville Songwriter's Association International. In 1987, he was named an honorary State Senator for Tennessee. In 1993, Kilgore was inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame in Lafayette, Louisiana, and into Shreveport's Byrd High School Hall of Fame. In 1998, Kilgore received the Legendary Songwriters' Award from the North American County Music Association. He hosted and performed at NSAI's Tin Pan South Legendary Songwriter's Acoustic Concert and was presented an award honoring him as "one of the world's outstanding songwriters." Kilgore had also served two terms as President of ROPE, International (Reunion of Professional Entertainers, Int.).
Kilgore was a long-time member of the Academy of Country Music and an active member of the Screen Actors Guild. As well as belonging to the NSAI and the American Federation of Musicians, he served as a board member for several organizations including the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and the Tex Ritter Museum, both in Carthage, Texas. He also directed the operations of two offices, Hank Williams Jr. Enterprises in Paris, Tennessee and Merle Kilgore Management in Nashville, where he managed several other artists, Joe Sins being his most prominent. In 1998, Kilgore was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On February 6, 2005, Merle Kilgore died from heart failure while in a Mexican hospital undergoing experimental treatments for lung cancer, and was interred in Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Kilgore was survived by his wife, Judy. three sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren and a great granddaughter.