Country legend Jim Ed Brown, who was just inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, died June 11 at 81 after a battle with lung cancer. He had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than fifty years.
Brown performed as a solo artist, half of a duet, and in the trio, The Browns, over his varied music career, reaching No. 1 on the country Billboard charts in 1959 with “The Three Bells” and Billboard’s all-genre singles chart. The Browns included his sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, and the Arkansas family was inspired by gathering around a battery-operated radio Saturday nights to tune into the Grand Ole Opry, where Jim Ed Brown mimicked the stars, particularly Hank Snow. The radio was the one luxury the Browns had on their farm with no electricity or running water.
Jim launched his solo career after sister Maxine entered him in a radio station talent competition in Little Rock, landing him a gig on the station’s Barnyard Frolic show, even if he didn’t win the competition. He asked Maxine to duet with him on the show, leading to their signing with Abbott Records. Bonnie later joined the duet to form the trio that became The Browns. Jim Ed was proud of the group, as he revealed in an interview with Peter Cooper Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, according to a press release by Webster Public Relations.
“If you listen to The Browns, it’s a very pretty sound. It was sibling harmony, a sound that was very pleasing. I’ve never heard anybody that could come close to that particular sound. It couldn’t be imitated.”
The Browns scored Top 20 country with hits such as “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” “I Take the Chance,” “Just As Long As You Love Me,” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing.” But in 1959, the group almost retired from a successful career with RCA Records due to family and military service demands, till Chet Atkins talked them into reconsidering. They recorded their biggest hit, “The Three Bells,” which opened the door of the Grand Ole Opry to them in 1963.
They also recorded “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair),” “The Old Lamplighter,” and “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On” before Bonnie and Maxine retired from the group in 1967. Jim Ed Brown then recorded his solo song “Pop a Top,” later covered by Alan Jackson.
Other solo Top 10 hits for Jim Ed Brown include “Morning,” “Southern Loving,” “Sometime Sunshine” and “It’s That Time of Night.” With Helen Cornelius, he reached No. 1 with “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You,” and the duo earned a CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award, recording several more hit duets.
Brown also hosted the Grand Ole Opry and several TV shows, including Nashville on the Road, The Country Place, You Can Be a Star, and Going Our Way. In 2003, Jim Ed Brown hosted the syndicated radio program, Country Music Greats Radio Show.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer in September, 2014, Plowboy Records released his solo album, In Style Again, featuring guest stars such as Vince Gill as well as Sharon and Cheryl White. While Jim Ed Brown enjoyed his musical success, he seemed most proud of his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Fame is fleeting, hit records change every week, award show winners and nominees change every year, but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever.”
The Browns’ official induction won’t be until October, but Jim Ed Brown was presented with a medallion in honor of his Country Music Hall of Fame membership June 4 in his hospital room before his passing.
[Photo courtesy of Plowboy Records]