Grand Ole Opry Star Jim Ed Brown Dies of Cancer at 81

Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, He Enjoyed Success as Soloist, Duet Singer and Member of the Browns

Jim Ed Brown, whose dark good looks and smooth resonant baritone brought him success as a solo artist, duet partner and mainstay of the Browns vocal trio, died Thursday (June 11) in a Nashville area nursing home where he was being treated for cancer. He was 81.

A 52-year veteran of the Grand Ole Opry, Brown, along with sisters Maxine and Bonnie, was recently elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Formal induction ceremonies are to take place later this year.

Brown was born April 1, 1934, in rural Sparkman, Arkansas. His father was a farmer and logger. Later on, the elder Browns would also operate a restaurant, grocery store and nightclub. The club became a favorite stopover for Elvis Presley when he was just starting his career on the road.

Always drawn to music, Jim Ed and Maxine began making appearances on The Barnyard Frolics on KLRA radio in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the early 1950s.

In 1954, Jim Ed and Maxine scored their first hit, “Looking Back to See,” a song they wrote and released on tiny Fabor Records. Despite minimal distribution and promotion, it rose to No. 8 on the country chart.

Younger sister Bonnie joined the act in 1955. The Browns played the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, toured with Jim Reeves and Presley (who was briefly their opening act) and by 1956 had signed to RCA Records under the tutelage of Chet Atkins.

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With the release of “The Three Bells” in 1959, the Browns became international stars and soon toured throughout Europe. So popular was the song that it topped both the country and pop charts and even cracked the Top 10 on the rhythm & blues rankings.

Maxine and Bonnie left the Browns in 1967 to care for their families. Jim Ed continued at RCA as a solo act and would remain with the label until 1981.

Brown’s biggest hit as a solo act came in 1967 with Nat Stuckey’s “Pop a Top.” It held the No. 3 spot for two weeks and became a hit for Alan Jackson in 1999. Brown’s other Top 10 hits were “Morning,” “Southern Loving,” “Sometime Sunshine” and “It’s That Time of the Night.”

He teamed up with singer Helen Cornelius in 1976 and they quickly topped the charts with “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.” The two were voted the Country Music Association’s vocal duo of the year in 1977.

Over the next five years, Brown and Cornelius racked up such Top 10 winners as “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye,” “If the World Ran Out if Love Tonight,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Lying in Love With You,” “Fools” and “Morning Comes Too Early.” “Don’t Bother to Knock” in 1981 was their last chart single.

Brown released his final album — In Style Again — in January.

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