Singer of ‘Three Bells’ and other coun­try hits

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By David Colker david.colker@la­times.com Twit­ter: @david­colker

Coun­try mu­sic sib­ling act the Browns, which had some mild hits in the 1950s, were about to give up on the mu­sic busi­ness when leg­endary mu­si­cian/pro­ducer Chet Atkins per­suaded the trio to give it one more try.

So, the Browns — Jim Ed, Max­ine and Bon­nie — went into a record­ing stu­dio in 1959 to sing “The Three Bells,” based on a French-lan­guage song. When they were done, Atkins said: “You kids may think you’re about to re­tire, but I think you’ve just recorded the big­gest song we’ve ever done.”

“The Three Bells” not only topped the Bill­board coun­try chart for 10 weeks, but it also crossed over to be the No. 1 pop song for a month.

Jim Ed Brown, 81, who was a sta­ple of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years and had nu­mer­ous ad­di­tional hits with his sis­ters and as a solo act, died Thurs­day at the Wil­liamson Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Franklin, Tenn.

The cause of death was can­cer, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Grand Ole Opry. Last year Brown dis­closed he was be­ing treated for lung can­cer.

He and his sis­ters are sched­uled to be in­ducted in the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in Oc­to­ber, but this month, Hall of Fame of­fi­cials vis­ited him in his hos­pi­tal room to present the medal­lion sig­ni­fy­ing his membership in the Nashville in­sti­tu­tion. “It was a sur­prise,” said Brown’s pub­li­cist, Martha Moore. “There was lots of tears.”

“The Three Bells” tells the story of a char­ac­ter named Jimmy Brown. All the chapel bells were ring­ing In the lit­tle val­ley town And the songs that they were singing Was for baby Jimmy Brown But the name in the song about three events in a man’s life — birth, mar­riage, death — was a co­in­ci­dence. “The Three Bells,” by Jean Vil­lard Giles and Bert Re­is­feld, was recorded by sev­eral other artists, in­clud­ing the An­drews Sis­ters, Roy Or­bi­son, Ray Charles and Alison Krauss. Still, the Browns had the hit.

“It was sib­ling har­mony, a sound that was very pleas­ing,” Brown said of the group ear­lier this year in an in­ter­view with Peter Cooper of the Hall of Fame.

“I’ve never heard any­body that could come close to that par­tic­u­lar sound. It couldn’t be im­i­tated.”

Their har­monies lent them­selves well to other songs with sen­ti­men­tal themes, in­clud­ing “The Old Lamp­lighter,” “Scar­let Rib­bons” and “Send Me the Pil­low You Dream On,” though the Browns never had a hit as big as “The Three Bells.”

Although they en­dured crit­i­cism from some in the coun­try and west­ern com­mu­nity for hav­ing a cross­over sound, they were popular on the Grand Ole Opry show from 1963 un­til the group dis­solved in 1967.

Jim Ed Brown con­tin­ued as a solo artist, get­ting a top 10 coun­try hit with “Pop a Top” (re­fer­ring to open­ing a can of beer). And be­gin­ning in 1976, he had sev­eral hits singing duets with He­len Cor­nelius.

James Ed­ward Brown was born April 1, 1934, in Spark­man, Ark., and grew up on a nearby farm with­out elec- tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter. Through lis­ten­ing to the Grand Ole Opry on a bat­tery-pow­ered ra­dio, he be­came good at mim­ick­ing some of the show reg­u­lars. This led to ap­pear­ances on a lo­cal ra­dio show that even­tu­ally show­cased him and his sis­ters as an act.

The longevity of his ca­reer was bol­stered by his ge­nial na­ture as a TV host on ca­ble and syn­di­cated shows such as “Nashville on the Road,” “You Can Be a Star” and “Go­ing Our Way,” co-hosted with his wife, Becky.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, he is sur­vived by daugh­ter Kim Cor­win; son James Ed­ward Brown Jr.; sis­ters Max­ine Brown Rus­sell and Bon­nie Brown Ring; and five grand­chil­dren.

Rick Di­a­mond

A STA­PLE OF THE GRAND OLE OPRY Jim Ed Brown and his two sis­ters formed the trio the Browns. They

are to be in­ducted in the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in Oc­to­ber.

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