Teddy Wilburn, the last surviving member of the Grand Ole Opry act the Wilburn Brothers, died Monday in Nashville at the age of 71. Doyle Wilburn, the senior member (by one year) of the duo, died in 1982.
Apart from their importance as performers, the Wilburns helped build the careers of many other artists — including Loretta Lynn, Webb Pierce and Patty Loveless — through their music publishing company, Sure-Fire Music; their booking agency, Wil-Helm Talent; and their syndicated television series, The Wilburn Brothers Show, which debuted in 1963 and continued into the ’70s.
Thurman Theodore Wilburn was born Nov. 30, 1931, in Hardy, Ark., into a musical family that initially involved his parents and his four older siblings as performers. Opry kingpin Roy Acuff saw the Wilburn Family performing in Missouri and, in 1940, arranged for its first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Teddy and Doyle and their older brothers, Lester and Leslie, began singing regularly on radio station KWKH in Shreveport, La., in 1948, the year that station launched The Louisiana Hayride. They became Hayride members in 1949. One of their frequent guests on their own show was the then little known Pierce. Teddy and Doyle served in the military from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War.
In the meantime, Pierce had steamed ahead on his own, debuting in Billboard on Decca Records in 1952 with “Wondering,” his first of a long string of No. 1s. In 1953, the Wilburn Brothers, as a duo, joined the Grand Ole Opry. They signed to Decca in 1954 and, with Pierce accompanying them, scored their first chart hit, “Sparkling Brown Eyes,” that same year. The brothers remained on the charts until 1972, distinguishing themselves with the Top 10 hits “I’m So in Love With You,” “Go Away With Me,” “Mr. Love” and “Hey, Mr. Bluebird” (both with Ernest Tubb), “Which One Is to Blame,” “Somebody’s Back in Town,” “A Woman’s Intuition,” “Trouble’s Back in Town,” “Roll Muddy River,” “Tell Her So,” “It’s Another World,” “Somebody Before Me” and “Hurt Her Once for Me.”
The Wilburns spotted Lynn when she was just emerging as an artist and helped her secure a record contract with Decca. They also served as her music publisher and manager for several years. (Ultimately, Lynn sued the Wilburns over royalties and publishing rights to her own songs.) As talent bookers, the Wilburns worked with such high-profile acts as the Osborne Brothers, Martha Carson, Charlie Louvin, Jean Shepard and Slim Whitman.
In 1973, 16-year-old Patty Ramey — who would much later become famous as Patty Loveless — joined the Wilburn Brothers touring show as a featured vocalist. She also signed a publishing deal with their Sure-Fire Music. Her first husband was the Wilburns’ drummer, Terry Lovelace.
After Doyle’s death, Teddy appeared relatively infrequently on the Opry, although he maintained his membership on the show. Funeral services will be held Wednesday (Nov 26) at 1 p.m. at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and will be open to the public.