Southern style

tsj column writers - southern styleBy Randall Franks

The announcements came recently for this year’s additions to the Country Music Hall of Fame including Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, the Oak Ridge Boys and musician Grady Martin. I was glad to see all these performers receive this honor.

“This is all very overwhelming not just for me, but for the Brown family” said Jim Ed Brown. “Receiving this honor with my sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, is something I had dreamed about for years, but never knew if it would happen or not. 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!”

CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize noteworthy individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor.

Jim Ed Brown and his family trio The Browns helped define an era while also taking Country Music to wider, more cosmopolitan audiences.

ZZ The Browns

The Browns/photo submitted

Jim Ed (born April 1, 1934 in Sparkman, Ark.), Maxine (born April 27, 1931 in Campti, La.) and Bonnie (July 31, 1937 in Sparkman, Ark.) got their start performing at church and social functions as teenagers in Southwestern Arkansas.

Perhaps the most important vocal group of the Nashville Sound era, The Browns’ harmonies were among the most influential of the time, immediately influencing groups like the Beatles and the Osborne Brothers. And the trio’s take on what Country Music can aspire to be can still be felt decades later in the music of modern vocal groups like Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.

Maxine signed up Jim Ed for a talent contest on Little Rock radio station KLRA’s “Barnyard Frolic.” Brown didn’t win, but he was invited to join the cast. Maxine eventually joined him on a stage and the two found quick success as a duo, landing a spot on the popular and influential “Louisiana Hayride” in 1954 and recording “Looking Back to See,” a surprise hit that rose to No. 8 on Billboard’s Country chart.

Bonnie filled out the trio by joining formally in 1955 and The Browns quickly scored another hit with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” It was an exciting time for the siblings, as chronicled in Maxine’s autobiography Looking Back to See and famed author Rick Bass’ fictionalized account of their lives,Nashville Chrome. They found themselves on the road with good friend Elvis Presley early in their career and helped establish Nashville as Music City, USA, along with acts like Presley and the Everly Brothers. Together they all pushed the boundaries of popular music.

They signed with RCA Records in 1955, teaming with legendary producer Chet Atkins, and eventually recorded 250 sides with the label, including sizeable hits “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing.” They toured the U.S. relentlessly during this period and also went to Europe with fellow RCA acts.

The Browns reached new levels of popularity with the recording of 1959’s “The Three Bells,” a song originally performed by Edith Piaf in France. The song displayed The Browns’ willingness to explore folk and pop modes in their music and the public responded, making it No. 1 on the pop and Country charts. It even rose to No. 10 on the R&B charts, showing its universal appeal.

The song and subsequent hits like “The Old Lamplighter” also proved widely popular and led the group to huge television appearance opportunities including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “American Bandstand,” and “The Perry Como Show.”

After initial friction because of their pop leanings, The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. The trio, which was occasionally augmented by younger sister Norma, formally disbanded in 1967 when Maxine and Bonnie chose to retire to raise their young families.

The Browns have made occasional appearances over the years, recording a reunion album in the mid-1980s and appearing on the Opry. Jim Ed, meanwhile, remains a beloved figure in Nashville. He continued his solo career after the trio separated, scoring Top 10 hits like signature songs “Pop a Top,” “Morning,” “Southern Living,” “Sometime Sunshine,” and “It’s That Time of Night.”

Jim Ed Brown managed to recapture the magic of boy-girl harmony again in 1976 when he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius. They were named the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 1977 and recorded memorable hits like “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You,” which went to No. 1; “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye”; “Lying In Love With You”; “Fools”; and “Morning Comes Too Early.”

Brown hosted a number of television shows in the 1980s, including the contest show    “You Can Be a Star,” and has remained a notable figure in Nashville, occasionally appearing on the Opry and hosting “Country Music Greats Radio Show” for more than a decade.

I encourage you to seek out and learn more about the Browns…

(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I : Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at rfrankscatoosa@gmail.com.)

 

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