Maxine Brown

The pioneering Country Music star with "The Browns" – Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie

Randy Francis – Why Browns Deserve Hall of Fame Induction

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By Randy Francis

I see so many campaigns underway in support of favorite legends of country music for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I happen to be an admirer of all of them and agree that each and every one of them deserves to receive the coveted honor. For some time now I’ve been devoted to the prospect of seeing one of the finest harmony groups of all time, The Browns–Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie finally having their immense contributions to Country Music wholly recognized by the ultimate accolade of the industry. I feel strongly, as do so many others…fans and peers alike, that The Browns deserve to be inducted and enshrined in the hallowed rotunda as much as any country music legends you may name; and they are alive to enjoy and cherish that prestigious status. I’d like to expand on why I feel they are so fully deserving.

In the span of their activity in country music, no other vocal group was consistently showered with industry awards. Literally dozens of honors as “Favorite Vocal Group” (or similarly titled awards) from trade magazines like Billboard and Cashbox ,voted by disc jockeys, jukebox vendors and talent buyers, and Country Song Roundup, voted by their fans, were handed to The Browns throughout their career together. Music Vendor awarded them it’s Triple Crown honor in 1959 noting their feat of topping the charts in the three categories of Country, Pop and R&B! They were honored by N.A.R.A.S. with four Grammy nominations; “heavies” like Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darren, The Beatles and Elvis Presley beat them to the actual trophies, but Jim Ed and his two sisters felt highly honored just to be nominated among such company! Three back-to-back million selling singles won The Browns several gold and platinum record award plaques. In 1998 they were inducted into The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame and in 2000 the trio was voted by their recording industry peers as “Favorite Singing Group” at the Reunion of Professional Entertainers’ “Golden Voice Awards”. That same year The Browns were inducted into the Walkway of Stars, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In 2001 the State of Arkansas Legislature, 83rd General Assembly proclaimed members of The Browns “Outstanding Arkansans.

In 2005 Maxine realized her dream of having her autobiography Looking Back to See…A Country Music Memoir published and it has enjoyed tremendous success, consistently placing in the Top 20 Best-Sellers list by UA Press for eight straight years now! Her honest and frank telling of the story of The Browns is also a study in the state of the music business in the 50s and 60s. It is now out in paperback and in March 2012 Maxine was honored with the Ella Dickey Literacy Award, the presentation a highlight of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Missouri.

In terms of pioneering country music, I think The Browns probably devoted about as much “blood, sweat and tears” as anyone who made it big in their day. Whether via a chartered plane or a car loaded down with stage outfits they put in many a thousand miles performing one-nighters and successful extended tours that took them all over the globe! They were bright, shining stars on the Louisiana Hayride , sharing the stage with Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton and Elvis Presley. They were also stars on Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee broadcast on ABC Television. They sporatically guested on The Grand Ole Opry numerous times before becoming regular cast members in August, 1963. For most of five years The Browns regularly performed on the Opry stage, earning consistent spontaneous applause from the crowds who always demanded encores. Since their retirement in late 1967, Jim Ed has continued on as an Opry mainstay right up until the present. For their many hundreds of stellar performances there the name of Brown is well embedded in the Opry’s heritage. The success of their smash hit recordings for RCA Records earned The Browns numerous network television appearances including The Perry Como Show, Arthur Murray’s Dance Party, American Bandstand, and The Ed Sullivan Show. Throughout the mid sixties they were also found guesting on popular syndicated television shows including The Jimmy Dean Show and The Wilburn Brothers Show.

The Browns were a very beautifully imaged group and they brought a level of class to their stage presence that seemed to be tastefully measured for appeal with just about any audience, whether the venue was a Country package show or an uptown concert hall. This, along with the greatness of their repertory, their direct performing style and that captivating rich harmony they were most noted for, helped them win a growing base of fans from all parts of the world.

The earliest hit recordings for The Browns, Looking Back to See, Here Today and Gone Tomorrow (both written by Maxine) I Take the Chance, Just as Long as You Love Me, Money, and I Heard the Bluebirds Sing and so many other of those fiddle/pedal steel ballads and novelty songs from the early years showcased The Browns’ pure, tight and flawless harmony and were just dripping with country greatness. But as each new RCA Victor session with Chet Atkins passed, the harmony, sound and repertoire steadily grew in dimensions of quality that kept The Browns right on top of…if not a little ahead of…the standards of the day. That steady growth as artists remained a noted trait of The Browns right up until their last “take” with RCA in 1967.

That ability of keep outdoing themselves in the studio crested with the hallmark session that yielded their most famous recording The Three Bells. It seemed like something akin to divine intervention took place on June 3, 1959 when beautiful, masterpiece recording was waxed. The success of The Three Bells is, itself a chapter in country music history. Many a long, successful music careers were launched for artists from records that sold a 10th of what this record did…at least four million to date in America alone! It has been cited as the first Nashville Sound recording to cross over to the Hot 100 Pop charts and reach #1. They followed up this success with Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair) and The Old Lamplighter , both of which soared up the Pop charts as well…the latter peaking at #5 ! The success of these songs and others provided The Browns a run at the top that saw them promoted by RCA along with such artists as Neil Sedaka, Sam Cooke, Ann-Margret, Henry Mancini and Della Reese, Though their ride as one of the top singing groups in the nation eventually diminished considerably with fickle and changing public tastes and constant changes in commercial pop music, The Browns are still considered by many fans of 50s/early 60s pop music as a favorite harmony group, sharing a level of status with groups like The Fleetwoods and The Chiffons.

The Browns persevered and returned happily to their Country music roots and continued putting out fresh new Country and Country-politan sounds under first rate production by Chet Atkins, artfully applying their malleable, signature harmony craft to a variety of genres of music including Folk, Pop, Country and Gospel. Fans of all these categories felt broken-hearted when Bonnie and Maxine opted for the home life retired to raise their children, thus dissolving The Browns. Many tears were shed that Saturday night in October, 1967 when they made the announcement from the stage of the packed Grand Ole Opry house on the 42nd birthday celebration show which was attended by thousands of Disc Jockeys from around the nation.

It would have been wonderful if circumstances had made it possible for The Browns to have stayed together and active touring together and recording another ten or so albums for us to enjoy. At the time they retired they were sounding greater together than ever! But I have always held high respect for Maxine and Bonnie for making that tough decision. One could ponder how differently things might have played out had the ladies never married and the three members of The Browns shared the same desire to take the very popular group to the top, and stay there long term without the encumbrances that young children would bring…and one can easily imagine The Browns being a giant musical force…all the elements of greatness and appeal were there for them. But I think the fact that there were two mothers involved in the Browns probably was somehow behind the sweetness and intimacy that we immediately take notice of when we hear their wonderful harmony. It may sound like a corny or “girlie” thing to say, but when I step back and take a look at the entire story of Country music it seems to me like that 12 year span of The Browns’ activity was something of a “moment of grace” handed to us by the “Man Upstairs” to add a little wholesomeness and sweetness to our lives! That was the era of the real greats in Country Music and the music of The Browns and their peers helped get us through the turbulence of those times. I think of all the reasons why The Browns are so deserving of the Hall of Fame honor, this one is the most meaningful to me. That sweetness, wholesomeness and outstanding musical greatness, totally unique to Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie, is finding new generations of admirers with domestic and foreign re-issues of their music. In 1993, The Bear Family of Germany delighted die-hard fans of The Browns with the releases of The Three Bells…The complete recordings of The Browns, an 8-CD Box set and it is prized by fans and collectors of 50s and 60s music from all over the world.

New fans of The Browns are new fans for Country Music…in particular for the music from the Nashville Sound Era. The Browns were among the architects of The Nashville Sound, and also among the ones who took that genre of American music around the world! They have been under-appreciated by the Country Music industry for , I think, a shameful length of time and it is time for these three wonderful people to realize their due glory!