Louise Scruggs, a pioneering businesswoman in Nashville and wife of Country Music Hall of Fame member Earl Scruggs, died Thursday afternoon (Feb. 2) at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital following a lengthy illness. She was 78.
Mrs. Scruggs, who guided her husband’s career for more than a half century, was the first female to become an artist booking agent in Nashville.
Born Anne Louise Certain, she grew up near Lebanon, Tenn. While attending the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1946, she first saw Scruggs and heard his groundbreaking style of three-fingered banjo playing while he was working with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. The couple married in 1948 — the same year Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt left Monroe’s band in 1948 to form their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys.
In 1956, Mrs. Scruggs became one of Nashville’s pioneer female executives when she began serving as Flatt & Scruggs’ business and booking manager. In addition to booking the band, she aggressively promoted the act within the folk music community and helped inspire the band’s series of concept albums, including Songs of the Famous Carter Family and Folk Songs of Our Land.
In her greatest career accomplishment, Mrs. Scruggs took Flatt & Scruggs — and bluegrass music — to a mainstream audience and managed to turn the musical duo into TV stars. In the earliest days of the folk music boom, Flatt & Scruggs toured with Joan Baez and performed at the Newport Folk Festival and other prestigious festivals. At a time when country acts seldom played in major venues in New York, they recorded a live album at Carnegie Hall. When Mrs. Scruggs began booking Flatt & Scruggs onto the college campus circuit in the 1950s and 1960s, she helped turn them into the equivalent of modern-day rock stars. They followed up the At Carnegie Hall album with another live album recorded at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University.
She also launched Flatt & Scruggs’ music into the worlds of television and movies, although she initially rejected overtures from Paul Henning, the creator of The Beverly Hillbillies. When Henning wanted to feature the duo’s music in the television series, she was concerned the show’s image would be bad for country music.
After flying to Nashville, Henning convinced her that association would not be detrimental to country music or Flatt & Scruggs’ career. With lyrics by Henning, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was recorded as the show’s theme song. Flatt & Scruggs’ recording of the song became a No. 1 hit — and the series is still running in syndication today. Henning also cast Flatt & Scruggs as themselves in several episodes of the popular program.
Flatt & Scruggs’ profile was boosted again when actor-director Warren Beatty chose their 1949 recording of the banjo instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” for his 1967 film, Bonnie & Clyde.
When Flatt & Scruggs parted company in 1969, Mrs. Scruggs helped reinvent her husband’s career when he and their sons — Randy, Gary and Steve — began exploring stronger rock influences in the Earl Scruggs Revue. One of her first accomplishments was a PBS special that featured the Scruggs family in informal performances with Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, the Byrds and others. The foray into the rock world led to Mrs. Scruggs guiding her husband to work with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the landmark album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
In addition to overseeing routine business matters, her eye for detail led her to enlist artist Thomas B. Allen to create original paintings for the covers of 17 Flatt & Scruggs’ albums. The distinctive style created an original and unique look that set them apart on the record racks at retail stores. She also co-wrote several songs recorded by Flatt & Scruggs.
In 2005, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled Banjo Man: The Musical Journey of Earl Scruggs, an exhibit detailing his life and career but also highlighting Mrs. Scruggs’ role in his success.
”I didn’t get where I went just on talent,” Earl Scruggs told The Tennessean newspaper when the exhibit opened. “What talent I had would never have peaked without her. She helped shape music up as a business, instead of just people out picking and grinning.”
Funeral services were pending late Thursday.