Whitney William Pursell was born on June 9, 1926, in Oakland, Calif. His father was Arthur Pursell, a high school principal and an amateur astronomer and clarinetist, and his mother, Delia (Peterson) Pursell, a nurse.
Raised in Tulare in California’s Central Valley, he studied composition at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore with time out to serve during World War II as an arranger for the Army Air Forces Band. In 1949, he began studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., from which he graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition. He earned a doctor of musical arts degree there in 1991.
He began teaching composition at the Belmont University School of Music in Nashville in 1980 and retired in 2017.
In addition to his daughter Laura, an actress and singer, his survivors include his daughters Ellen Spicer and Margaret Pursell; sons Bill and Arthur Pursell; and four grandchildren. A daughter, Sharon, died in 2012. His first two marriages ended in divorce. His wife, Julie (Crow) Pursell, died in 2018.
Mr. Pursell’s recording studio tenure coincided with a nuanced transition from the honky-tonk country music popularized by the Grand Ole Opry to the smoother so-called Nashville Sound. According to “Crooked River City,” Mr. Pursell played an important role in the transformation, but never received credit.
The reasons, Mr. Klefstad suggested, were that Mr. Pursell might have been discounted because he came from California, not from the South and because, unlike many of his Country music colleagues, he had been trained as a classical musician and “was not savvy enough, at least at first, to conceal his abilities.”