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In the 1950's, the Nashville Sound was making its mark on the `pop' scene. However, the country genre had so far failed to gain a No.1 hit on the pop charts. The closest it had come to that achievement was in 1957, when the legendary Patsy Cline reached the No.2 spot with `Walkin' After Midnight'. The honor of recording the first country No.1 hit to crossover to No.1 on the pop charts was earned by sisters, Maxine and Bonnie Brown, and their group's lead singer, brother Jim Ed Brown. The group was known as The Browns. The first `countrypolitan' No.1 hit was `The Three Bells'. Ironically, the alternative name for the song was `Little Jimmy Brown'.
Jim Ed Brown was born on 1st. April 1934 in Sparkman, Arkansas. As a youngster, Jim Ed and his family would gather round the radio on a Saturday night to listen to The Grand Ole Opry. Jim Ed and his sister, Maxine, would try their own harmonies in an effort to emulate their idols from The Opry. These activities were encouraged by their parents so, while they were still at high school, the duo began to perform in public.
By 1952, Jim Ed and Maxine had begun to perform on local radio shows; initially with KCLA, Pine Bluff, and later on the `Barnyard Frolics' show with KLRA, Little Rock.
In 1954, the duo were signed by Fabor Records and released five singles on that label. They released a novelty song, `Looking Back To See', which made the Top 10. As well as receiving airplay nationwide, Jim Ed and Maxine also appeared on national television by medium of The Ernest Tubb Show.
In 1955, their sister, Bonnie, joined the group and the trio became known as `The Browns'. The trio had another Top 10 hit, `Here Today And Gone Tomorrow'. They toured with Elvis Presley and once again appeared on national television, this time on `Ozark Jubilee'.
In 1956, The Browns were signed by RCA, an association which would last until the group disbanded in 1967. They recorded their first album and had two hits `I Take The Chance' and `I Heard The Bluebirds Sing'. However, in 1957, Jim Ed was drafted into the military. So, to keep the group in the public eye, Jim Ed's place in the group was taken temporarily by another sister, Norma.
Jim Ed returned to the group following his military service, and The Browns recorded `The Three Bells'. The song was the first hit to attain the position of No.1 on the country, pop and rhythm and blues charts. The success of the group resulted in their appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The recording sold over one million copies.
At the 1959 Grammy Awards, The Brown's `The Three Bells' was nominated for both the Record Of The Year and the Best Group Or Vocal Performance categories. However, the awards went respectively to Bobby Darin's `Mack The Knife' and to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir for `The Battle Hymn Of The Republic'. Ironically, the awards for Best Country Song and Best Country and Western Performance went to Johnny Horton's `The Battle Of New Orleans', categories for which neither The Browns nor `The Three Bells' were nominated.
The Browns had other major hits, including `Scarlet Ribbons' and `The Old Lamplighter'. However, by 1963, the group had noticed their country folk style was becoming less popular so they joined The Grand Ole Opry. Their 1964 album, `Grand Ole Opry Favorites', exemplifies their work on the country stage. They gave their last Opry performance in 1966. The group had been nominated Vocal Group of the Year for eight successive years.
The Browns disbanded in 1967, but not before Chet Atkins gave Jim Ed the chance to record solo for RCA in 1965. Jim Ed had hits with `I'm Just A Country Boy' and `I Heard From A Memory Last Night'. He followed these up with `Pop A Top', which reached No. 3 on the country charts in 1967. (`Pop A Top' was later recorded with great success by Alan Jackson). Other hits by Jim Ed in the late 60's were `You Can Have Her' - which reached No. 18 on the charts but was also covered very successfully by Roy Hamilton - and `Bottle, Bottle' which reached No.13.
Jim Ed continued to appear on The Grand Ole Opry; he had become a member in 1963. He hosted Nashville's `You Can Be A Star', appeared on other radio and television shows and toured extensively. In 1968 he became a regular at the Sahara Tahoe's Jupiter Lounge with a group called The Gems and, in 1969, hosted the television show: `The Country Place'. The hit recordings continued too. `Morning' reached No.4 in 1970; `Sometime Sunshine' and `Southern Loving' both reached the Top 10 in 1973, as did `It's That Time Of Night' in 1974.
However, things really started to happen again for Jim Ed when he teamed with Helen Cornelius in 1976. `I Don't Want To Marry You', recorded in their first year together, topped the country charts. Their 1977 hit `Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye' reached No.2. The duo had six Top 10 hits in total, including `If The World Ran Out of Love' and `You Don't Bring Me Flowers' (1978), `Fools' (1979), and `Morning Comes Too Early' (1980). Their rendition of `Lying In Love With You', whilst not accomplishing this feat, did enter the charts at No.19, constituting the biggest country chart leap in history. The duo's final hit `Don't Bother To Knock' (1981) reached No.13 on the country charts.
Jim Ed and Helen had success on the Awards scene too. They won the 1977 CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, as well as being nominated for the same category for the three years 1978-80. Furthermore, their album, `I Don't Want To Have To Marry You', was nominated for the CMA Album of the Year Award in 1977. Jim Ed and Helen went their separate ways in 1981.
Jim Ed continued to record and perform, appearing occasionally on The Grand Ole Opry. In 1983 he joined TNN, and in the latter part of the decade he opened the Jim Ed Theater near Opryland in Nashville. Sisters, Maxine and Bonnie again joined Jim Ed in 1996 to record the gospel album: `Family Bible'. Otherwise Jim Ed hosted the TNN travel show, `Going Our Way', with his wife, Becky. He now performs with his new band, `The Company', and is a regular on The Grand Ole Opry, appearing about twice a month. Jim Ed can also sing in Spanish, German and Japanese.
In all, Jim Ed Brown released 45 albums. 21 albums were recorded with sisters Maxine and Bonnie as The Browns, 6 with Helen Cornelius and 18 were as a solo artist. Jim Ed's work is also included on seven country compilation albums. His work included 38 solo hits on RCA. Jim Ed, along with sisters, Maxine and Bonnie, has been inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall Of Fame. Without doubt, it can truly be said that Jim Ed Brown is right in the van of `countrypolitan' artists - from the very heart of `countrypolitan'.
Written by Michael D'Arcy. February 2002, Countrypolitan.com.
Look for Jim Ed Brown's Music