It is with personal sadness that I pass the news that Grand Ole Opry member, and recently elected Country Music Hall of Famer, Jim Ed Brown has passed away at the age of 81.
James Edward Brown was born on April 1, 1934 in Sparkman, Arkansas. He grew up on a 160-acre farm on which he helped run the family's sawmill business. While in high school he was President of the student body and captain of both the basketball and football teams. He entered Arkansas A&M College as a forestry major and then switched to Arkansas State Teachers College to study music and voice.
While still in high school, he and his older sister Maxine had a radio show on KCLA in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and became regular members of the Barnyard Frolic. Starting in 1954, they released five singles on the Fabor label, as Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, including "Looking Back to See." They became members of the Louisiana Hayride and in 1955 joined Red Foley as featured regulars on the Ozark Jubilee. Later that year, sister Bonnie joined them and they became known as The Browns. Their first Top 10 hit was "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow." in 1956 they signed with RCA and followed with two #1 songs, "I Take the Chance" and "I Heard the Bluebird Sing." After a two year stint in the service, Jim Ed rejoined his sisters and in 1959 they had the biggest hit or their careers, "The Three Bells." The record sold over a million copies and was the first #1 country song to cross over and hit #1 on the pop and rhythm and blues charts. They followed with hits "The Old Lamplighter" and "Scarlet Ribbons."
On August 12, 1963, they became members of the grand Ole Opry, but in 1967 Bonnie and Maxine decided that combining busy careers and caring for growing families was too much and they retired.
Jim Ed went solo and continued his success. In 1966 he reached #3 on the charts with "Pop A Top" and that was followed by "Southern Loving" "Sometimes Sunshine" and "Morning." In 1975 he began a six-season run as co-host of the syndicated weekly television series "Nashville on the Road" and he became known as the national spokesperson for Dollar General Stores. In 1976 he teamed with Helen Cornelius, which became one of country music's most successful duos. They released hits such as "Don't Bother to Knock," "Fools," and the #1 songs "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You," "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," and "Lying in Love with You." In 1983 Jim Ed became host of TNN's "You Can Be A Star," and in 1994 he paired with his wife Becky as co-hosts of TNN's travel show "Going Our Way."
In August 2013, Jim Ed celebrated 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and was joined on the Opry that evening by sisters Maxine and Bonnie. Although The Browns broke up in 1967, they continued to make special appearances together, several of which took place on the Opry. In January 2015, he released a new album "In Style Again," to great reviews and, to cap his career, it was recently announced that Jim Ed Brown and The Browns had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
While Jim Ed was notified of his election to the Hall of Fame in March, the actual medallion ceremony does not take place until October. It was reported in the Tennessean this evening that when it was realized that Jim Ed was not going to survive, a special medallion ceremony took place in his hospital room where Bill Anderson presented the medallion to Jim Ed, placed it around his neck, and officially welcomed Jim Ed to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was said that there were a lot of tears and laughter as Jim Ed was surprised.
On a personal note, Jim Ed was always one of my favorites. I had met him several times and he was always a gentleman. I was lucky enough to be backstage the night of Jim Ed's 50th anniversary as an Opry member, as he shared the evening with his sisters and his very good friend Bobby Bare. I guess if I had to pick a favorite Browns song, it would be "The Old Lamplighter." I just love the story and the harmonies on that song.
The past year has been tough at the Opry. First Jimmy C Newman, followed by George Hamilton IV, Earl White and Jimmy Dickens. Each loss has been felt at the Opry as will this one. May God welcome Jim Ed Brown and bless his family during this difficult time.