Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jean Shepard

Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard passed away earlier this morning. She had been in declining health for the past several months and had recently gone into hospice care. Jean was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for just over 60 years, one of only three Opry members to have marked that milestone, and the only female. Her last Grand Ole Opry appearance was last November, when she was recognized on her 60th anniversary as an Opry member.

Jean was a trailblazer as a female artist in country music. When she began recording at Capital Records with producer Ken Nelson in 1952, there was no precedent in country music for a young woman recording and touring on her own rather than as a member of a family team, couple, or as a band's "girl singer."

She was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Visalia, California. She was one of ten children in a family that loved music and that listened to the Opry on the radio. Hank Thompson spotted her when she was just 14 years old, singing and playing bass in an all-girl band she'd formed called the Melody Ranch Girls. Hank was the one who brought her to the attention of Capital Records. Prior to coming to the Opry in 1955, she was a star on Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee.

While never having the number of hit records as other female artists, such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette, Jean set the table for each of these females, and the ones who followed. And I don't think she received the attention for that as much as she deserved. Today's young female artists owe her a great debt.

Jean loved traditional, honky-tonk country music and was often quoted on her thoughts regarding today's country music. She was not kind. She was blunt and spoke the truth. Many times she made her feelings known as to the direction that the Opry was taking. Yet pretty much every week, Jean was there, keeping traditional country music alive.

As another Opry legend, and a link to the past, has passed away, all of us who enjoyed Jean and her music will remember the times we saw and heard Jean. And we will do it with a smile on our face as we will remember Jean and what she stood for.

Prayers and thoughts go to Jean's family and friends as they prepare to honor the memory of Jean Shepard.

26 comments:

  1. While we've lost many of her peers in recent years, the passing of Jean, to me is deeper in some ways. Almost comparable to Wagoner, Acuff, Snow, Grandpa and Monroe. So dependable and faithful. Aside from Stonewall, the last of that great Honky Tonk generation. So glad she got to see herself inducted into the Hall of Fame. To me the Opry is now one less person "Grand".

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  2. Can't say this was a surprise to anybody with eyes, but it still hurts.
    One of the best interviews I ever heard was between Eddie Stubbs and Jean just a few months ago on WSM. Her mind was still quite sharp and I really appreciated her mentioning that she hopes she will be remembered as somebody who was honest.
    That's a cinch, Jean.

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  3. Sad to hear of Jean's passing but as Nat said, we knew it was getting close.

    I'm pretty sure we witnessed history the last time we saw her perform in Renfro Valley in August 2013. She said that night that she was retiring from the road after that show and I'm pretty sure she did. If anyone knows different pleas let me know. I know she was going to Sandstone, MN a several months back but Hawk Jr. went in her place! That show at RV was with Jim Ed, Jan and Stonewall! I set back behind the less that full crowd and trembled and shed tears as I took photos and she told she was retiring.

    We met Jean several times and as I have noted here many times she and Benny were responsible for us spending a full Saturday night backstage at the Opry in April 1999. We will always be greatful.

    It is too bad that someone of so much importance to our music will go unnoticed by the generations going forward partly because she was not as commercial as some who followed and because she was true to her roots and was not ashamed of it.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with Benny and the family. I would expect a good show from Eddie sometime this week and that the Opry will do a good job this coming weekend remembering Jean. I hope so!

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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  4. In watching the local news last night and reading the morning paper, there was no mention at all of the death of Jean Shepard. No excuse.

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  5. Sad. So far I have found it on the Fox News website, a press release from the Opry that says she was the first female to reach 50 years on the Opry. Little outdated but who needs facts in this loose day of social media!

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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  6. When they talk about the Opry's Mount Rushmore, she's in the running for a spot. And let's always remember that in addition to paving the way for every woman who followed, she coined the perfect term to describe today's country music when she said that CMA stood for Country ... well, fill in the blanks. Honest? Oh, yes.

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    1. Michael: I think Dale Watson did a song with the same title that your referring to... Bob

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  7. The first time I went to the Grand Ole Opry was in August of 2013. I really didn't know anyone on the lineup, because most of the acts were either veterans or newcomers not often played on my local country station. I was realy impressed by the show. Jean Shepard appeared in the final segment of the show, and was introduced by Too Slim. When the name Jean Shepard was introduced, out came this frail little old lady. I was not expecting much from this woman. Man was I blown away. Out from this little lady came the most amazing and booming voice I'd ever heard at the time. She performed "Tennessee Waltz" and "Wabash Cannonball." Then she started yodeling, and briefly danced! She was incredible. I gave her a standing ovation when she finished. To me, she was honestly the highlight of the show, and when I became a regular Opry listener, I would always make sure to be tuned in when she was going to be on.

    I remember back in 2014 when Jim Ed Brown introduced her, she told a joke about her uncle backstage who invented the miniskirt, Seymour Hiney. Jim Ed Brown caught her off guard and remarked that they should brig him onstage. It was funny listening to her attempt to get out of that situation.

    Jean had so many great songs, yet for some reason so few of them were hits. It's sad she's not as well beloved as she should be. People always think of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline as the women who opened doors in country. They forget it was actually Jean Shepard who opened the doors. I wonder if even Carrie Underwood knows who Jean Shepard is, and what her impact was on her career?

    Deaths are known to come in threes, and unfortunately, they all happened on the same day. Jean's death was overshadowed by the passings of baseball player Jose Fernandez, and the legendary golfer & drink maker Arnold Palmer.

    For the past few years, the Opry has lost 2 members each year. As the Grand Ole Opry lineup gets thinner and thinner, the lineup for God's Ole Opry gets bigger and bigger.

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    1. I loved your comment Kyle...Bob

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  8. Nice comments Kyle. Glad you got to the Opry when you did.

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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  9. Nicely said Kyle, and I am glad that the veteran members of the Opry made a positive impression on you. They are the ones who paved the way for those who are on the show today.

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  10. Yes, we also are saddened by the passing of Jean Shepard; always loved seeing and/or hearing her on the shows. We also met her after the Midnite Jamboree. Our last time to see Jean on the Opry was the 2014 Anniversary show. (Anonymous in PA)

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Is this The Grand Ole Opry after dark?

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  12. Has anyone heard when Eddie Stubbs will do his tribute show for Jean?

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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    1. On Wednesday night from 8 p.m. until midnight, Stubbs will host a tribute to Shepard during his show on 650 AM WSM; the program can also be heard on the WSM mobile app and at wsmonline.com. Bob

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  13. No Opry funeral for Jean? This surprises me. She had been a member nearly 61 years

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    1. I wonder if she didn't want one. Her feelings about the current management might not have been terribly warm.

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    2. An 'Opry' funeral is not without precedent and I think likely something more recent we've become used to. Minnie Pearl, Charlie Walker, Billy Walker, Del Reeves, Charlie Louvin, Ernest Tubb, Dottie West, Ernie Ashworth and Jim McReynolds were some of the Opry stars who did not have a funeral at the Opry House or Ryman. Wilma Lee Cooper had no service at all (a terribly sad ending for such a wonderful lady) and Mr. Acuff specifically asked to be buried before anyone knew he had passed (with a memorial service hosted later in the Acuff Theater). What makes me sadder is that whatever is left of the Opry in the future there will be little remembering of Jean Shepard or any of those mentioned above. Even now I'm shocked at the way Mr. Acuff is very rarely mentioned or an Acuff song is played on the Opry. (oldtimeopry)

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    3. If there were ever two individuals who did deserve an service at either the Grand Ole Opry House or the Ryman Auditorium, it would have been Marty Robbins or Ernest Tubb. As to the concept of an "Opry" funeral, I agree that it seems to be something that has only recently been done. I would really have to think back to whom might have been the first to have a service at the Grand Ole Opry House, and I am thinking Hank Snow in December 1999. That is the one that I think of immediately. Not sure if there were any before Hank.

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    4. Bill Monroe just came to my mind from 1996. I know his funeral was at the Ryman Auditorium.

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  14. Wondering if Jean's memorial service will be open to the public?

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    1. http://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/music/2016/09/27/jean-shepards-memorial-service-held-friday/91156584/ Bob

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    2. fans wanting to pay their respects, a public visitation will be held on Thursday, Sept. 29 at Hendersonville Funeral Home (353 East Main Street) from 12pm-8pm and Friday, Sept. 30 from 11am-1pm followed by a celebration of life service at 1pm. The visitation and service are open to the public. Bob

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  15. Fred, Bismarck:

    Per an Associated Press story that I Googled, Wilma Lee Cooper herself asked that there be no memorial service. If that's "sad," per above, it's the way she wanted it.

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  16. I got the impression a few years back from something Jean said either on stage or in interview that Pete Fisher helped her with some of her health problems. It might have been that he found a doctor to help her or something.

    I'm not a fan of how Fisher and team have done many things but out here in radio land it's just hard to tell how everyone feels about each other and gets along. I know sometimes it is obvious and well publicized but not always, good or bad.

    Jim
    Knightsville, IN

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