HOT DISH: Did the Browns Pave the Way for Taylor Swift and Other Crossover Successes?

More News About Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride and Others

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at

Did the Browns help provide the groundwork for Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum? Were they perhaps the first country crossover act?

Reading a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, I became puzzled when I came across “The Must List.” At No. 8 was a book by Rick Bass titled Nashville Chrome. I’d never heard of it.

The review noted that in the late ’50s, the Browns — the vocal trio of Jim Ed Brown and sisters Maxine and Bonnie — were a smash success in country music, but lasting fame eluded them. Their success included “The Three Bells,” a single that spent 10 weeks at the top of the country chart in 1959. They had other hits, including “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” and “The Old Lamplighter,” but none gained the popularity of “The Three Bells.” The short item in EW said the act “fell through the cracks.”

After calling one of my compadres at CMT, we were intrigued by the topic, yet we kept thinking, “Who would be interested in a country music act that had one major hit 60 years ago?” However, if things work out the way Maxine hopes they will, the partially fictionalized account of the Browns’ career could eventually get even more national attention.

Reading the rest of the magazine, I found a longer review of the book that pointed out that the trio’s popularity for a short time rivaled that of Elvis Presley, who dated Bonnie. My mind began to unravel history as I recalled that Bonnie, the youngest, was quite a beauty who gave up Elvis to marry a hometown doctor to whom she is still married.

An article by Chris Talbott of the Canadian Press revealed more information about the book.

As it turns out, the 52-year-old Bass, who has won numerous awards for his writing, became interested in country music because of his daughters’ love for Keith Urban! He somehow met Nashville-based publicist Norma Morris, who told him about Maxine’s autobiography, Looking Back to See.

“This is amazing,” Bass thought. With Norma’s help, he found his way to Maxine’s living room in North Little Rock, Ark.

Maxine wanted a screenplay based on her book, but Bass told her he was a literary novelist and could not write a movie script. However, he was convinced he could tackle her story in a dramatic way, and perhaps someone could base a movie on a book.

The group stopped working together in 1967 when the sisters returned to Arkansas to take care of their families. Jim Ed began a successful solo career in 1965 and remained in Nashville as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, where he still performs regularly. He also had success with the duets he recorded with Helen Cornelius. Bonnie found a happy life with her husband.

At 79, Maxine is still dreaming about a movie of her life and the lives of her siblings. And maybe she will get it — with the help of Rick Bass’ book.

According to Maxine, Jim Ed doesn’t know what to think about the book, but she and Bonnie are laughing their heads off. Sisters will do that.

Taylor Swift Honored at Her Alma Mater
Taylor Swift attended Hendersonville High School near Nashville during her freshman and sophomore years until her career zoomed to the top and she began to be home-schooled. However, she isn’t one to forget her hometown, and the city hasn’t forgotten her, either. As a matter of fact, she continued to live in Hendersonville until earlier this year when she moved into a condo in Nashville.

The Sumner County Board of Education recently voted unanimously to name the high school’s auditorium for Taylor. She’s remained thoughtful and kind to her alma mater, shooting a video with the cheerleaders last year and donating $75,000 to the school.

I also see that Taylor recently jetted to Los Angeles where she joined Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris and Lionel Richie for one of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s “All for the Hall” benefit shows at Club Nokia. The older stars seemed as impressed with Taylor as she is with them.

Wynonna, Naomi and Santa
Wynonna and Naomi Judd will board the Santa Train on Nov. 20. The duo, along with dear old Santa Claus himself, will travel the CSX train and make 14 stops in the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Along the way, they’ll be delivering 15 tons of toys to deserving children along the route.

Thank God for any and all who bring smiles and fill the bellies of the families of Appalachia.

Will Keith Urban’s Daughter Sign With Capitol?
Sunday Urban, 2½-year-old daughter of Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, is adding singer to her bio. According to her sweet daddy — who is not one iota proud (ha!) — the youngster is singing her ABC’s and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Since Keith’s label has so many big stars, I expect Capitol Nashville prez Mike Dungan to have Sunday mark her “X” on a contract any minute now!

Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw Grabbing Airplay
The stars played leapfrog on country radio during the week of Sept. 19–25. Of the 100 most-played songs, Tim McGraw boasted eight titles, but Kenny Chesney led the pack with 10 tunes.

Kenny’s hot as a pistol with “The Boys of Fall” becoming his 18th single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart. I was privy to see an advance of the video. Wow! It’s a great piece of work.

More News
The first round of CMA performers was announced last week. I thought you’d want to know the list includes Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and the pairing of Zac Brown and Alan Jackson. I call that a dad-gum great start!

The always-wonderful Martina McBride will headline the Nashville Symphony’s “Home for the Holidays” concert on Dec. 10. It’s Martina’s first appearance with the symphony since 1998, when she was presented the Harmony Award, an honor given annually to a musician who exemplifies the spirit of Nashville’s music community.

Some 10,000 fans attended Darryl Worley’s ninth annual Tennessee River Run Festival and raised more than $200,000 for charity. His nonprofit foundation has so far raised more than $1 million to help those in need in the Savannah area.

Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys has released his eighth book, From My Perspective. In it, he shares stories of his private moments with the late Johnny Cash and Dottie Rambo and offers other stories from his 35 years on the road with the Oaks.

Opry House Reopens
The May flood in Middle Tennessee took its toll on all of us in one way or another. Some lost their homes, some lost their lives. Rains and flooding played havoc on musicians, destroying irreplaceable instruments and amplifiers and all forms of equipment, stage clothes and vehicles.

One of the saddest parts was the 46 inches of water inside country music’s home, the Grand Ole Opry House. But hallelujah! It’s open again. After Opry performances were moved to other venues around town, the best of the best came out to celebrate last week during the first show at the Opry House in more than four months. The lineup included Brad Paisley, Little Jimmy Dickens, Keith Urban, Charlie Daniels, Montgomery Gentry, Dierks Bentley, Del McCoury, Marty Stuart, Steve Wariner and Ricky Skaggs, among others.

Martina McBride and Connie Smith were angels singing like angels, but one of the high points was after Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins sang their hit, “Hillbilly Bone.” Drawling about how Blake is famous for his use of Twitter, Trace handed him his phone as the message on the Opry’s backdrop read, “Blake Shelton, you are invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. See you 10/23/10.” After a standing ovation, Blake said, “I can honestly say, being invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry is hands down the best moment of my life.”

’Nuff said. Congratulations, Blake.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id=”1649190″]Vegetable Beef Soup.[/news]