Jim Ed Brown, Country Music Hall of Famer, Dies at 81

Mike Barnes

Jim Ed Brown, a member of the country music trio The Browns and a star of the Grand Ole Opry for more than a half-century, died Thursday. He was 81.

Brown, who was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in March with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, died at Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, Tenn. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in September.

The Browns’ 1959 crossover smash “The Three Bells” topped Billboard’s country chart for 10 straight weeks, and it spent four weeks atop Billboard’s all-genre singles chart.

“If you listen to The Browns, it’s a very pretty sound,” Brown, a native of Sparkman, Ark., said recently. “It was sibling harmony, a sound that was very pleasing. I’ve never heard anybody that could come close to that particular sound. It couldn’t be imitated.”

The Browns also notched Top Twenty country hits with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” “I Take the Chance,” “Just as Long as You Love Me,” “Money,” “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing,” “Would You Care” and “Beyond the Shadow.”

In 1959, the Browns, then with RCA Records, had told producer Chet Atkins that they were thinking of quitting the business, but Atkins asked them to come to Nashville and record one more time.

“Chet asked if there was anything we wanted to do that we hadn’t recorded,” Brown said. “We told him about a song called &lsquoThe Three Bells’ that we sang coming from Pine Bluff to Nashville. We recorded it, and after the session, Chet said, &lsquoYou kids may think you’re about to retire, but I think you’ve just recorded the biggest song we’ve ever done.’ ”

The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963 on the strength of “The Three Bells” and follow-ups that included “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair),” “The Old Lamplighter” and “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.”

In 1967, after Maxine and Bonnie retired, Jim Ed stayed in Nashville as a solo artist on RCA, and he recorded his signature solo song, “Pop a Top,” a No. 3 country single.

From 1967-74, Brown also reached the Top Ten of the country charts with the singles “Morning,” “Southern Loving,” “Sometime Sunshine” and “It’s That Time of Night.”

In 1976, he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius, and they logged a No. 1 country hit with “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”

In March, The Browns, along with Grady Martin and The Oak Ridge Boys, were announced as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Browns’ official induction won't come until October, but a delegation visited Jim Ed in the hospital on June 4 to present him with a medallion commemorating his membership.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

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