The Browns Spread Country Music to the World
By John Dersham
As a kid in the fifties I grew up in New York City. I had no exposure to country music. In those days you did not hear country music on the radio in the Northeast.
My family enjoyed Perry Como. He had a very successful weekly TV show for many, many years. One day he was talking about this great new trio who was on RCA with him. He said The Browns (Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie) were bringing Country Music to the pop charts and letting the world hear some of the finest harmonies and sweetest sounds you will ever hear.
“I became a country music fan because of The Browns.”
In the fifties and sixties The Browns were a household name in country and pop music. They even made the R&B and Gospel charts. Ralph Emery named them one of the most popular and influential groups off all time in country music. They had hit after hit topping country and pop charts. They took country music to the next level from a southern regional music to international phenomenon. If it were not for The Browns and a few other artists of the “Nashville Sound” era, Country Music may have never found its worldwide appeal. The Browns were produced by Country Music industry legend Chet Atkins. They recorded at legendary RCA Studio B. The same studio of which Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves recorded.
The Browns were on the famous radio show The Louisiana Hay Ride in the middle 50’s they had a good friend that was on the show that hung out with The Browns, his name was Elvis Presley. Soon, The Browns scored a hit with “Looking Back to See” in 1954, not long after that Elvis seemed to do pretty well for himself too.
In the late 50’s The Browns were even contacted by a group of young men in London soon to be known as The Beatles. They asked The Browns to help them learn how to get that perfectly tight harmony. If you listen to The Beatles very early recordings you will hear that effort.
The Browns appeared on all the popular TV shows of the time; Ed Sullivan, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Perry Como Show and many, many more. In a few cases they were the first country act to ever appear on those shows. They were nominated for Grammy’s multiple times in Country, Pop and Gospel music. They were Vocal Group of the year several times. Their achievement list is long to include here.
The Browns were among the first country acts to have cross over hits onto the pop charts. It worked as a double edge sword because some elements in country music thought them too polished or over sophisticated for country music. Their pop audience always looked at them as great country trio with impeccable sound and wonderful songs.
The Browns scored hits like The Three Bells, Scarlet Ribbons and The Old Lamplighter. These songs have been appearing on classic hit compilations in Country, Pop and Folk music for 50 years. The Browns, Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie took harmony to an all new level. As a brother sister act they grew up singing together. They pronounced their words the same and they perfected their melodic structures to melt their harmony together like three parts to one voice. Now, nearly 60 years after their first county hit they still appear together on occasion. They recently appeared on Legends of Country Music on PBS and Jim Ed has had solo hits and hits with Helen Cornelius. He has remained a long term member of the Grand Ole Opry and appears around the country as a Legend of Country Music. Jim Ed has been host to four weekly TV shows over the years and appears on all the Country’s Family Reunion shows. The Browns appeared on it too.
Simply put…The Browns changed the listening audience for country music. Country Music was mostly a regional music in the southeast but The Browns brought country music to the next level. They spread country music nationwide and worldwide.
Maxine Brown has written a fantastic book called “Looking Back to See” named after their first hit in 1954. Her book chronicles The Browns legacy in Country Music. Maxine’s story is one every country and pop music fan should read. Maxine has a great ability to remember her lifetime. Her ability to recall in detail the Browns more than 50 years in the industry is amazing and extremely interesting. You can visit Maxine’s website at www.themaxinebrown.com
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