Friday, June 12, 2015
Smooth-voiced singer Jim Ed Brown, a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1963 and a 2015 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Williamson Medical Center in Franklin. He was 81.
In September Mr. Brown revealed that he had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer. In early 2015, he announced that he was in remission, but on June 3, his daughter Kim posted on Facebook that her father's cancer had returned — although not in his lungs — and that he had resumed chemotherapy.
One day later, when Mr. Brown's condition appeared unlikely to improve, his dear friend and country legend "Whispering" Bill Anderson visited Mr. Brown in his hospital room to present him with a Country Music Hall of Fame medallion, five months ahead of this fall's official induction ceremony.
"It was sad, but in a beautiful way, because we were making him happy," Anderson said. Mr. Brown was surprised earlier this year with the news that he would receive country music's highest honor.
On Thursday night, news of Mr. Brown's death spread as country star Alan Jackson opened the sold-out nightly LP Field concerts for the 2015 CMA Music Festival. Jackson played a bit of Mr. Brown's signature hit "Pop a Top" and said, "We're gonna miss you, Jim Ed Brown. God bless you," before leaving stage.
James Edward Brown was born on April 1, 1934, in Sparkman, Ark.; later, the family of seven would move to Pine Bluff, Ark. Growing up, he would listen to Opry stars such as Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, and sing with his older sister Maxine and younger sister Bonnie.
In 1954 Mr. Brown and Maxine, who had been singing on the radio and performing regionally as a duo, signed a deal with Fabor Records. Their debut single, the lighthearted "Looking Back to See," peaked at No. 8 in June of that year. The young singers became regulars on The Louisiana Hayride and Ozark Jubilee.
In 1955 their teenage sister Bonnie joined the group; a year later, The Browns' recording of "I Take the Chance" for their label RCA Victor hit No. 2 on the country charts. One of their best-known songs was "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing," a song that was released in 1957, the same year that Mr. Brown was drafted into military service. He continued to record with his sisters while on leave, and when the group toured, sister Norma would take his place.
After two years, Mr. Brown left the military and rejoined the family band. They would release their smash hit "The Three Bells" in August 1959. It spent 10 weeks atop the country chart, four weeks atop the pop charts and even cracked the Hot R&B Sides Top 10. The Browns' timeless version of this song would go on to sell more than 1 million records. Subsequent recordings "Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)" and "The Old Lamplighter" were also crossover hits; however, the former would be the group's final Top 10 country single.
The Browns were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. They would disband four years later when Maxine and Bonnie decided to retire from the trio.
In 1965 Mr. Brown began to make solo records for RCA Victor, where he'd remain for the next 16 years. In 1967 he'd release what would become his signature song: the Nat Stuckey-penned "Pop a Top," which spent 20 weeks on the charts. He'd go on to release several other successful singles, including "Morning" (No. 4, 1970) and "Southern Loving" (No. 6, 1973).
During the mid-1970s, Mr. Brown, in between hosting multiple seasons of the television program "Nashville on the Road," began to record duets with Helen Cornelius. The pair won the 1977 CMA Vocal Duo Award thanks to hits such as the 1976 chart-topper "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You" and "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," which hit No. 2. They released their last charting single, "Don't Bother to Knock," in 1981.
Mr. Brown returned to television in the 1980s, hosting "You Can Be a Star" for six years and co-hosting a travel program, "Going Our Way," with his wife, Becky. Though he did not release any studio albums during these years, he continued to tour and perform on the "Opry."
In January, at the age of 80, Mr. Brown released his first album in 35 years, "In Style Again," for Plowboy Records. Despite his age and his health, Mr. Brown was in fine vocal form on this project, singing with Cornelius and his sisters in addition to Vince Gill and The Whites. At the end of the month, he returned to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
In late March, it was announced that Mr. Brown, along with his two sisters, was going to be officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At the announcement, an emotional Mr. Brown began his remarks by telling the audience that he was cancer-free. During an interview, he remarked that one of the most meaningful aspects of his induction was that "my family, friends and fans (will) always have a place to go and remember me. I'll be there forever."
Two weeks ago, Anderson was told The Browns had asked that he be the Hall of Fame member to induct them into the Country Music Hall of Fame at the ceremony in the fall. Then he got the call June 4 saying Mr. Brown's induction needed to happen that day. He canceled a doctor's appointment and joined a group of people, including Country Music Association Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern, in Mr. Brown's hospital room to surprise him with his commemorative Hall of Fame medallion.
"Jim Ed was pretty emotional," Anderson recalled. "He was very lucid. He laughed and he cried, and you could tell just how proud he was." Mr. Brown took his ball cap off and Anderson slipped the medallion over his head, around his neck and laid it on his chest in the hospital room, signifying that he was officially a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. "He was tearing up and so was I and so was everybody in the room," Anderson said. "He said, 'I had about convinced myself that even if I don't make the Hall of Fame, I've had a pretty good run. But to wear this medallion and know that I made it to the Hall of Fame makes it perfect.' "
Mr. Brown was short of breath and on oxygen. Anderson leaned over his hospital bed as his friend wondered if he would be able to sing when he got to heaven, because he couldn't sing in his current condition.
"I said, 'Well, Jim Ed, if you get up there and find you can't sing, no worries,'" Anderson recalled. "I'll loan you my license to whisper. You can steal my act until I get there.' He started laughing, and he laughed until tears were running down his face."
Then, just like the Country Music Hall of Fame ends each induction ceremony, Anderson started singing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" — just the chorus, he said. Mr. Brown's other guests joined in.
Mr. Brown leaves behind Becky, his wife of 52 years, and his son and daughter. Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.
Posted by Michael Godin at 7:01 AM