Final Bows in 2014: Opry Stars and Rock Pioneers

Also Gone Are Such Icons as Pete Seeger and Jesse Winchester

Death left no corner of country demographics untouched this past year, sweeping away such revered figures as Grand Ole Opry stars George Hamilton IV and Jimmy C. Newman, rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer Phil Everly, as well as performers who persevered for years against ravaging afflictions — folks like Kevin Sharp and Dawn Sears.
 
Baby boomers who were there at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll had reason to feel particularly aggrieved as many of its principal architects passed away. In addition to Everly (the younger of the two Everly Brothers) and Hamilton, whose first hit was the rock valentine “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” also gone are Bob Montgomery (Buddy Holly’s high school bandmate) and Millie Kirkham and Chip Young, both of whom were crucial in creating Elvis Presley’s sound.
 
And so toll the bells for:

Paul Craft, 76, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, former banjoist for Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys and composer of such emotionally varied standards as “Keep Me From Blowing Away,” “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” “Brother Jukebox” and “Dropkick Me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life),” Oct. 18, in Nashville.

Phil Everly, 74, younger member of the pioneering rock duet team, the Everly Brothers, Jan. 3, in Burbank, California. The Everlys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
 
Steve Fromholz, 68, singer-songwriter of “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” Jan. 19, near San Angelo, Texas.
 
Ronald C. “Ronnie” Gant, 69, the music publishing visionary who pitched the song “Elvira” to the Oak Ridge Boys, Jan. 4, in Nashville.
 

 
George Hamilton IV, 77, veteran Grand Ole Opry member who first soared to pop stardom in 1956 via the teen confection “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” Sept. 17, in Nashville. His country hits included “Abilene,” which spent four weeks atop the country singles chart in 1963.
 
Larry Henley, 77, co-writer of the Grammy-winning hit “Wind Beneath My Wings” and member of the Newbeats, the 1960s pop group, Dec. 18, in Nashville.
 
Herb Jeffries, approximately 100, singer and movie actor who made a high-profile foray into country music in 1995 with the album The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again), May 25, in West Hills, California.
 
Loudilla Maxine Johnson, 75, one of the three sisters who systematized the operation of country music fan clubs and pioneered the event now known as CMA Music Festival, May 7, in Franklin, Tennessee.
 
Millie Kirkham, 91, background vocalist whose soaring soprano touches graced such hits as Ferlin Husky’s “Gone,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Dec. 14, in Nashville.
 
Don Light, 77, talent booker, manager and a founder of the Gospel Music Association who was instrumental in the rise of the Oak Ridge Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Steve Wariner, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, Dailey & Vincent, the Steep Canyon Rangers and other gospel, country and bluegrass acts, June 17, place of death not confirmed.
 
Bob Montgomery, 77, producer, publisher, Buddy Holly’s high school bandmate and writer of the hit songs “Misty Blue” and “Back in Baby’s Arms,” Dec. 4, in Kansas City, Missouri.
 
Weldon Myrick, 76, whose weeping and rollicking steel guitar flourishes graced hits as diverse as Connie Smith’s “Once a Day” and Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” June 2, in Nashville.
 
Jimmy C. Newman, 86, a 58-year member of the Grand Ole Opry and writer of the hit “Cry, Cry Darling,” June 21, in Nashville.
 
Dawn Sears, 53, acclaimed backup vocalist and member of the Grammy-nominated band the Time Jumpers, Dec. 11, in Nashville.
 
Pete Seeger, 94, world-renowned folksinger, political activist and environmentalist, Jan. 27, in New York. He was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
 
Kevin Sharp, 43, singer who valiantly battled cancer while establishing himself as a country artist with “Nobody Knows” in 1996, Dec. 10, in Fair Oaks, California.
 
James Alan Shelton, 53, Grammy-winning guitar player and 20-year veteran of Ralph Stanley’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, June 3, in Kingsport, Tennessee.
 
George Shuffler, 88, pioneering bluegrass guitarist and bass player and a 2011 inductee into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, April 7, in Valdese, North Carolina.
 
Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, 93, guitar virtuoso, songwriter, radio and TV host and co-writer of “Dueling Banjos,” the 1972 crossover instrumental hit from the movie Deliverance, April 3, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 
Tim Wilson, 52, stand-up comedian and recording artist, Feb. 26, in Columbus, Georgia.
 
Jesse Winchester, 69, singer-songwriter whose works such as “A Showman’s Life” have influenced a broad swath of country and pop recording artists and who fled to Canada in 1967 to avoid participating in the Vietnam War, April 11, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
 
Chip Young (born Jerry Marvin Stembridge), 76, guitarist, producer and member of Elvis Presley’s studio band from 1965 to 1977, Dec. 20, in Nashville. 

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.