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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).
While at Mercury Records, in late 1955, he unsuccessfully tried to convince Fred Talmadge, the label's Marketing Director to sign the 20 year old Elvis Presley, then still at Sun Records but with competing offers from both Atlantic and RCA Records. Mercury, like Atlantic, offered US$30,000, both being outbidded by RCA who took Presley for US$40,000. As Presley sold 10 million record units in the next 12 months, it would be safe to say that RCA recouped the investment in less than 24 hours. 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", "Pretty Paper", "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 Willie Nelson, Billy Grammer, Ray Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, Larry Gatlin, Charlie McCoy, Al Hirt, Boots Randolph, Jeannie Seely, 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 would become a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted alongside fellow North Carolinians Randy Travis and Charlie Daniels on October 16, 2016.
- Unterberger, Richie. "Biography: Fred Foster". Allmusic. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
- "Non-performer Hall of Fame Inductee: Fred Foster" (PDF). Country Music Association. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
- "Rascal Flatts Perform With Toto During Musicians Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony". CMT.
- "N.C. Music Hall of Fame offers tickets". The Salisbury Post. August 29, 2012. Archived from the original on December 31, 2013. 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.
- "CHARLIE DANIELS, FRED FOSTER AND RANDY TRAVIS INDUCTED INTO THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME". Country Music Hall of Fame. 1-4-2018. Check date values in:
- Fred Foster Interview NAMM Oral History Library (2012)