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Born in Rutherford County, North Carolina, Foster struggled to support his mother after the death of his father. At the age of seventeen, Foster left the farm and moved to Washington, D.C., where he would eventually work for Mercury Records and ABC-Paramount Records (1955).
In March 1958, Foster used his life savings and formed Monument Records with minority partner Buddy Deane (a disc jockey at WTTG). In 1959, Deane sold his stock back to Foster, and Foster re-located the label to Hendersonville, Tennessee, in 1960. Foster remained active with the label until 1983. Foster is credited with the development of Roy Orbison's career, producing many of Orbison's major hits, including: "Oh, Pretty Woman", "Only the Lonely", "Running Scared", "In Dreams", "Crying", "It's Over", "Mean Woman Blues", "Candy Man", and "Blue Bayou". Foster also played a significant role in Dolly Parton's early career, signing her to Monument in 1964, shortly after her arrival in Nashville, and overseeing her recordings, culminating with her first top-40 country hit, "Dumb Blonde", in 1967. Foster also produced recordings by Billy Grammer, Ray Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, Larry Gatlin, Charlie McCoy, Al Hirt, Boots Randolph, Jerry Byrd, Billy Joe Shaver, Grandpa Jones, the Velvets and Robert Mitchum.
In 1963, Foster expanded his label, forming the soul and R&B imprint Sound Stage 7. Its roster of artists included Joe Simon, the Dixie Belles, Arthur Alexander, and Ivory Joe Hunter. Foster co-wrote (with Kris Kristofferson) "Me and Bobby McGee", which was a hit for Kristofferson, Roger Miller and Janis Joplin.
Foster produced Willie Nelson's 2006 Grammy Award–nominated You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker and Nelson's collaboration with Merle Haggard and Ray Price, Last of the Breed (2007). The latter was the winner of the 2008 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration, for the track "Lost Highway".
On March 29, 2016, it was announced that Foster will become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- Unterberger, Richie. "Biography: Fred Foster". Allmusic. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
- "N.C. Music Hall of Fame offers tickets". The Salisbury Post. August 29, 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
- Watts, Cindy, "Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Fred Foster to be inducted to Country Music Hall of Fame," The Tennesseean, March 29, 2016. Accessed 03-29-2016.
- Fred Foster Interview NAMM Oral History Library (2012)