For more than six decades, Jim Ed Brown built a lasting character as a multipurpose performer, radio and TV host, and recording artist. In each of these characters, he stretched the smooth-singing tradition brought by country stars such as Red Foley, Eddy Arnold, and Jim Reeves. The trio he performed with, sisters Maxine and Bonnie, famously known as The Browns, is perhaps the most significant vocal act of the Nashville Sound era. Their harmony is used since the Beatles’ time up to now, with Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.
Jim Ed Brown found love for music by singing with his sisters in school and at church gatherings while growing up in southwestern Arkansas. In 1952, Sister Maxine signed up Jim Ed in a talent contest prearranged by Little Rock radio station KLRA. He did not win, but the station gave Jim Ed a regular session on Dutch O’Neal’s Barnyard Frolic, and Maxine soon joined him on stage.
By 1954, Maxine and Jim Ed recorded their original song “Looking Back to See” for the small Fabor label. It became a top ten country hit. Their sister, Bonnie joined them in 1955. Their rendition of “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” also reached Billboard’s country top ten. In 1963, the trio got their Grand Ole Opry membership. The Browns harmony aided country music to widen its audience by increasing its record sales and broadcasting exposure.
Due to The Browns’ disbandment in 1967, Jim Ed pursued a solo career. In 1965, he began making his own hit records for RCA. He recorded with Helen Cornelius in 1967, and a year later they became CMA’s Vocal Duo of the Year. Our favorite is their best-known hit, “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You”.
Brown’s echoing voice and easy style made him a natural host, not only on the Grand Ole Opry but also on other programs. In 2003, Brown began introducing the weekly syndicated radio program Country Music Greats Radio Shows that included his own stories about life in the country music industry. In 2014, Brown disclosed that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, he had a remission in 2015. He returned to a warm welcome on the Opry, at the Ryman Auditorium. Sadly, his cancer returned in June the same year. His chances for recovery were slim. On June 4, Brown’s fellow Opry star Bill Anderson, joined Country Music Association CEO, Sarah Trahern and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO, Kyle Young, to visit Brown in his hospital room. Anderson presented Brown with his Hall of Fame medallion, five months before the official ceremony. Jim Ed Brown died June 11, 2015.
Nevertheless, we remember you always, and, yes Mr. Brown, it’s a good life.
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