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The Browns

The Browns—a trio Jim Ed Brown formed with sisters Maxine and Bonnie—were perhaps the most important vocal act of the Nashville Sound era.

Their harmonies influenced the Beatles and the Osborne Brothers, and their approach can still be heard in the music of modern vocal groups including Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.

Jim Ed Brown
Born: Sparkman, Arkansas, April 1, 1934
Died: June 11, 2015

Maxine Brown
Born: Campti, Louisiana, April 27, 1931
Died: January 21, 2019 

Bonnie Brown Ring
Born: Sparkman, Arkansas, July 31, 1938
Died: July 16, 2016

 

Jim Ed Brown began singing with his sisters in school and at church functions while growing up in southwestern Sparkman, Arkansas. In 1952, sister Maxine entered Jim Ed in a talent contest organized by Little Rock radio station KLRA. Although a harmonica player took first place, the station made Jim Ed a regular on Dutch O’Neal’s Barnyard Frolic, and Maxine soon joined him on stage.

By 1954, the young performers were singing on Shreveport’s KWKH Louisiana Hayride, a virtual farm team for the Grand Ole Opry. Using a KWKH studio, Maxine and Jim Ed recorded their original song “Looking Back to See” for the small Fabor label in March 1954. That summer the record became a Top Ten country hit, prompting the brother-sister duo to join the Ozark Jubilee on KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. Already popular on radio, the program became a regular ABC-TV feature from 1955 to 1960.

After sister Bonnie (b. Sparkman, Arkansas, July 31, 1938) became part of the act in 1955, the trio’s rendition of “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” also cracked Billboard’s country Top Ten. RCA Records signed the Browns in 1956, and during the period from 1956 to 1957 they scored Top Five hits with “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing.”

Nevertheless, traveling hard to work low-paying dates was tough. The singers were planning to quit show business when their recording of “The Three Bells,” earlier a pop hit for French chanteuse Edith Piaf, topped Billboard’s country and pop charts in 1959, and even reached #10 on the R&B chart. With the additional crossover hits “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)” and “The Old Lamplighter,” “The Three Bells” touched folk and pop fans and led to network TV appearances, overseas tours, and, in 1963, Grand Ole Opry membership. During these years the Browns’ smooth sibling harmony helped country music broaden its audience by increasing its record sales and broadcasting exposure.

The Browns disbanded in 1967. Maxine and Bonnie returned to Arkansas to raise their young children, while Jim Ed pursued a solo career. In 1965 he began making his own hit records for RCA, including the signature “Pop a Top” (1967), as well as “Morning” (1970), “Southern Loving” (1973), “Sometime Sunshine” (1973–74), and “It’s That Time of Night” (1974).

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